Elderly individuals often find themselves visiting the emergency room far more often than younger people, regardless of the severity of their conditions.
As a person begins to age, there are a number of illnesses that they become more prone to, including dementia, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and more. In the U.S. alone, there are 65.7 million caregivers providing help to these elderly and sick patients. However, off the clock, first responders are often the ones helping the elderly manage their chronic conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 48% of adult ER patients are not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, but don’t know where to turn when their primary physicians’ offices are closed.
Paramedics used to rush Maria Vitale from her home in Queens to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center Emergency Room regularly. Vitale suffers from diabetes, kidney disease, a heart arrhythmia, and dementia. At 88 years old, these conditions are difficult for her to manage.
But Vitale didn’t want to uproot herself from her home in Elmont. She wanted to remain comfortable living in the home that she and her late husband shared for 60 years. But even with full-time live-in aides, her conditions would need special medical attention. She had nowhere to turn but 911 when she became lethargic and dizzy, or when she experienced chest pains.
“Sometimes we felt like the hospitalization hurt her,” said her son, Paul Vitale, who himself is a health care executive. “She came home worse than when she went in.”
All too frequently, Paul would find himself leaving his home in Manhattan during the middle of the night to head to Long Island. The trips, as well as the constant worry about his mother’s health, began to take a toll.
Now, Maria Vitale is not longer sent to the E.R. when something goes wrong. Instead, her aides call a dispatch service through Northwell Health, and on-call paramedics are sent to her home to treat her on-site if possible, instead of transporting her to Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
“A lot of what’s been done in the E.R. can safely and effectively be done in the home,” said Dr. Karen Abrashkin. “The hospital is not always the safest or best place to be.”
Dr. Abrashkin is Mrs. Vitale’s primary care physician, and also helps coordinate the dispatch program that her patient has benefited from.
Geriatric specialists often warn that hospitalization can deteriorate the mobility of a senior citizen even further, and that trips to the E.R. often serve as gateways for long-term hospital stays. By keeping patients like Mrs. Vitale in their own homes, this problem can be curbed and the patients are able to rehabilitate more comfortably.
Instead of an ambulance, these paramedics often arrive in an SUV. Rather than taking Mrs. Vitale away on a stretcher, they can often treat her in her own living room.
In addition to their regular training, these paramedics have also undergone 40 hours of additional training to prepare them for urgent care treatments and home calls.
Since March 2015, Mrs. Vitale has seen these on-call paramedics 10 times, but has only been to the hospital once, after she broke her hip.