Minnesota Hospital Association


January 23, 2018

Granite Falls Health addresses health care disparities through community paramedics

Rural Minnesota has numerous health care disparities. Granite Falls Health-Ambulance has stepped up to address many of these disparities by implementing a community paramedic program.    

The goal of the program is to manage and develop treatment techniques for patients in their home, prevent costly and unnecessary Emergency Room visits, decrease hospitalizations and prevent hospital readmissions. Over the past 11 months, the program has proven itself effective by reducing overall health care cost, increasing patient satisfaction and improving the overall health and well-being of patients.   

Community paramedics operate under the license of the physician medical director and serve as an extension of the primary care physician providing care in patients’ homes. Residents living in and around the community of Granite Falls have limited transportation options, causing great difficulty for patients getting to and from medical appointments. This program provides direct access to health care in the patient’s home from two certified community paramedics who are also registered nurses. Two emergency medical technicians also assist the community paramedics as needed.   

Community paramedicine is not a new concept to Minnesota; however, Granite Falls’ community paramedic program is the first in rural Southwest Minnesota. While rural communities host 20 percent of the total population, only 10 percent of physicians practice rurally. This leads to a physician-to-patient ratio of 12.5 to 10,000, compared to the Minnesota state average of 27 to 10,000. The community paramedic program strives to respond to this gap by decreasing the workload of the primary care provider, serving as the eyes and ears of the provider in patients’ homes.    

On home visits, community paramedics provide services such as hospital or emergency room discharge follow-up care, medication reconciliation, home inspection and safety checks, review of local resources, mental health screenings, physical assessments, chronic disease monitoring and patient education. Particular focus has recently been placed on mental health screenings and referral for services. Access to mental health services is limited in many rural communities, but Granite Falls Health employs a licensed psychologist who serves as a critical resource for the community paramedic program.    

The program began operations Jan. 1, 2017. To date, 65 patients have been referred to the program, accounting for 341 total visits. In the first six months of operation, the program decreased Emergency Room visits by 64 percent and hospitalizations by 52 percent for enrolled patients. To achieve this, the overall cost of the program totaled just over $60,000.