A new program started by the Jackson Township Fire Department is designed to reduce the number of non-emergency runs the department's EMS squads make while also helping residents avoid visits to the emergency room.

The Community Assistance Referrals and Education Services program began in December 2018.

Greg Tussing, a firefighter-paramedic, was assigned to serve as the department's community paramedic.

In his new role, Tussing works a 40-hour work week separate from the regular EMS squads.

A new state law ratified in 2015 allows paramedics and EMT personnel to take on non-emergency roles in addition to performing traditional 911 emergency services, Lt. Bob Schneider said.

"A lot of times, people have an issue or a concern that isn't an emergency matter. They call 911 and call us because they don't know who else to call," he said.

The services provided through the CARES program "really runs the whole gamut," Schneider said.

"It could be helping people make their home safer, connecting residents to home-care providers who can provide services they need, providing fall-prevention assistance, to providing medicine reconciliation.

"This program allows us to go out in the community and help folks who are just having difficulties," Tussing said. "We work with folks who have just been discharged from the hospital, patients who are having physical problems getting around or having difficulties with their normal daily life."

"Anything we can do to try to help out is what we want to do," he said.

"The goal is to help people take care of things so they aren't having to be transported to the emergency room. The hospitals don't want people to have to come to the emergency room unless it is a real emergency."

"I think of it as being EMS prevention," Schneider said.

"Just like we provide a fire-prevention program for fire safety, this is a program to help people avoid trips to the emergency room or visits from the EMS squad."

Since Jackson Township's program began, 29 residents have been served.

Tussing, who worked 23 years as a firefighter-EMT before taking on his new role, said he is enjoying the chance to develop a more personal connection to patients.

"As time goes on, and I begin to regularly visit them, we're going to be able to build that relationship," he said.

"It's a different experience, for sure," Tussing said. "I like having the chance to get to know and help patients on a more individual basis."

Most of the referrals have been made by the township's EMS crews, Tussing said, but the CARES program will be working with local hospitals to encourage referrals from them, Tussing said.

Residents can get more information about the CARES program by calling the fire department at 614-875-5588 or by sending an email to CARES@jacksontwp.org, Schneider said.

An increasing number of fire departments are starting their own community-paramedicine programs, he said.

In central Oho, the departments with CARES programs include the cities of Upper Arlington and Whitehall and Norwich, Violet, Truro and Mifflin townships.

"As more and more departments are starting their programs, we're sharing results and ideas with each other based on what's worked in our individual programs," Schneider said.

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