North Memorial Health recently expanded its community paramedic program to Hubbard, Cass and Becker counties.

“We are advocates providing patient-centered care and empowering our customers to achieve their best health. We visit patients in their homes to help them stay healthy and out of the hospital,” explained Michael Zimmer, a community paramedic for North Memorial Health based out of Park Rapids. “I like to think of it like years and years ago, when doctors made house calls. We can provide many services at home for a patient instead of the patient having to go to a clinic. We can be a link to all of the many assistance programs available.”

According to North Memorial Health (NMH), their community paramedic program is the first of its kind in Minnesota and one of the first in the nation.

Zimmer said the service has been ongoing in the Twin Cities for several years. “We’re just expanding to the outstate regions.”

According to an NMH flyer, a community paramedic is “a seasoned 911 paramedic with additional training in preventative medicine, chronic disease management, home safety navigation, social determinants of health and healthcare navigation.”

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They receive training that is above and beyond a traditional paramedic, including 300 hours of additional education and 196 hours dedicated to clinical training. They are certified by the Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board.

Zimmer, who has 21 years of experience as a paramedic, is joined by two others on the team: Carl Fosse and Kayt Susterick.

Patients are referred to the community paramedic program through a primary care provider or EMS crews. Weekly visits are standard, Zimmer said.

“That’s one of the goals of the program is trying to make sure patients are doing OK at home and they won’t have to be readmitted to the hospital,” he said.

"We partner with insurance companies, government agencies and other organizations to provide community paramedic services to those in need,” said Charlene Zielin, community paramedic program manager. “These organizations provide funding through grants and contract payments to help offset our program costs.”

Zimmer noted that paying for an emergency room visit is more costly than a preventative visit by a community paramedic. The insurance companies know the pricing of services and emergency care is always more expensive than non-emergency services.

The local crew began seeing patients a couple weeks ago. “It’s very, very new,” Zimmer said.

They are performing lab draws, for example. “Some of these things are really nice for people that can’t get to the clinic, but they need routine lab draws. We can do it at home and bring it in,” he said.

Any age of patient can be assisted at home, but typically it’s someone with a chronic health problem, Zimmer continued.

The NHS community paramedic crew is getting area doctors familiar with the program.

To learn more, Zimmer recommends talking to your primary care physician.