About one in four patients treated and then discharged at Southeastern Regional Medical Center is back at the hospital within a month, a high percentage, but one that should be kept in context, meaning factors beyond the hospital’s control, especially local demographics, must be part of the conversation.
The reality is that SRMC serves an unhealthy populace, one that suffers disproportionately with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and substance abuse — and folks aren’t exactly diligent in preventing health problems or dealing appropriately with them when they occur and have been treated.
It’s costly not only for the patients, but for SRMC, which faces the possibility of fines under President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act when the government deems that too many followup visits are necessitated. Last year the cost was about $400,000; SRMC officials say almost 70 percent of the hospitals across the United States faced some kind of penalty because of repeat visits.
SRMC and Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services have taken the problem head-on, securing a two-year $310,000 grant from Duke Endowment that will pay for home visits by paramedics to recently released patients in Lumberton who have been treated for congestive heart failure, heart attack and respiratory illnesses. The county Board of Commissioners on Monday amended a franchise with Lumberton Rescue and EMS that frees the paramedics to make the home visits without a 911 call, and they will be paid $35 an hour through the grant.
Expectations are that paramedics will provide care and identify potential threats that will mean fewer return trips to the hospital, saving unnecessary costs and — more importantly — improving the patient’s health and that person’s quality of life.
“I like to call this community medicine,” Greg Bounds, director of Robeson County’s Emergency Services, told the county commissioners on Monday. “If we educate the patients, there may not be another need for them to return to the hospital.”
Education is a vital component of health care, from knowing how to eat correctly to the importance of exercise and how to properly take prescribed medicines.
The program, which will begin in February, will initially be offered only in the zip codes of 28358, 28359 and 28360, where the majority of SRMC’s patients live. But hospital officials say that if it succeeds in reducing the number of quick return visits by patients to the hospital, that it will be expanded, presumably to other parts of Robeson County and perhaps even beyond.
Credit SRMC and the Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services for their collaboration — and let’s hope for healthy outcomes and an expansion of the program as it is needed.