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‘They make us feel like someone is there to care’

Fire District 3 program provides care for people who would otherwise call 911 out of sheer desperation

Going through a rough patch with frequent falls after a Parkinson’s diagnosis, longtime Central Point resident Garth Ellard is one of countless community members who often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Needing immediate help, and with none available, Ellard’s daughter, Terri Williamson, said the pair had become “frequent fliers,” forced to call 911 when Ellard would fall or if she was unable to lift him between places, for example, from car to house.

Nearing two years since Fire District No. 3 implemented its Community Care program, to prevent non-life-threatening calls from clogging up emergency resources, department officials say they’ve seen a 25% reduction in dispatch of 911 services for calls like Ellard’s.

Founded just before the pandemic began, the Fire District 3 Community Care program is two-fold, said District 3 Chief Bob Horton.

While it redirects nonemergency calls, freeing up firefighters and paramedics for life-threating emergencies, it also provides customized care and long-term solutions for people who would otherwise call 911 out of sheer desperation.

“Our mission is to preserve quality of life of our patrons while, at the same time, avoiding expensive emergency room bills for issues that could be solved with some pretty simple solutions,” said the chief.

Horton said the program is a locally designed hybrid of similar programs starting around the country. An added boost, partnerships with local agencies provide solutions by way of modifications and repairs to homes or follow-up care for needed medical devices or social services.

Building Together Rogue Valley often steps in to install grab bars and raise toilet seats, for example, while Asante Lifeline ensures patients are able to call for help in the event of a fall. Groups like the local Kiwanis Club offer help building ramps or other add-ons for accessibility.

“There’s been a lot of research that talks about the billions of dollars across the country that low-acuity calls cost the medical and emergency response system. We’ve learned that, for us, it’s about 20%-25% of the calls that enter our 911 system,” said Horton.

“We see 20-plus calls a day, and at least five to six of those are situations best handled by our Community Care team — calls that would have otherwise involved an engine and personnel responding in a (nonemergency) situation.”

Williamson said access to care, and connection to fellow community members who care, have made a big impact on her dad’s quality of life.

“Before the program first started, dad was going through a really bad spell. With his Parkinson’s, he has limited use of his legs even though his upper body is fine. At one point, he had fallen seven times in 10 days. I had been up and down through the night, and I was to the point I couldn’t function anymore,” said Williamson.

Williamson said Community Care paramedic Michelle Frazier, who has helped implement the program, showed up when Williamson and Ellard were at wits end.

“They came to help but they also just listened. They have done medical trips for him and always showed up when we didn’t know who else to call. We needed a grab bar so he could get in and out of his wheelchair into his comfortable chair, and they came out here, found the measurements and installed it for us,” she said.

Frazier said helping community members in need — whether those who would have continued to utilize 911 or even those who might have hesitated to call despite needing help — is rewarding.

“I think what’s really neat is we’re actually able to start seeing a change in our patients. A lot of times, someone has called 911 multiple times by the time we get the referral, and now that we’re involved 911 is not being activated at all. Sometimes it’s something like a new medication not working well and they need to talk to a doctor, or they need a specialist but nobody’s returning phone calls,” Frazier said.

“Sometimes, were just stepping in to serve as a patient advocate. The best outcome is when we see families thriving and their needs being met. Sometimes we don’t hear from them again because they’ve gotten everything they needed,” she said.

“It’s just been amazing to see someone who has been at their last rope, nobody willing to help, and you show up at their house and offer solutions. Within a week or two, they’re getting the help they need and they’re grateful and they have hope again,” she added. “There’s a weight lifted from their shoulders.”

A former city council member and longtime resident, Ellard said the Community Care program enabled him to stay in his home.

“Because of their help, I was able to stay home, out of the hospital or a facility,” he said. “Something as simple as a grab bar made a big difference in how often we had to call for help.”

On a recent visit with Frazier and partner EMT Andrew Bates, Williamson joked that Community Care would be first on her list if she ever won the lottery.

“I can’t even express how much this program means. The human connection is the thing,” Williamson said.

“We were homebound before COVID and even more now. They show up and help when we need it and even check on us when we’re doing OK. They bring fresh things from their garden. … They make us feel like someone is there to care.”

“We feel very fortunate to be part of a wonderful community,” Ellard added. “Everybody, at one time or another, needs a little help.”

For more information, see jcfd3.com/services-community-resources/pages/community-care

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.