By: Sarah Ferraro
A study by the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center found the state's urban areas offer over five times as many home health care services as rural areas. This disparity creates many problems for rural South Carolinians who face unique challenges due to their location.
Dr. Kevin Bennett is Senior Researcher for the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center. He says the Center's studies are focused on improving these conditions.
“There's fewer providers, they tend to have more chronic conditions so they're sicker, they're less likely to have insurance… and finally, they have issues as far as transportation goes," said Bennett.
The SCRHRC has been working with the Abbeville Area Medical Center to track the progress of patients in a new home health care program. A $25,000 grant from the South Carolina Office of Rural Health allowed them to launch the Community Paramedicine Program. Abbeville Director of Emergency Services David Porter worked closely with the medical center to address the community's needs.
“We started talking about the Community Paramedicine project about 3 years ago...to talk about where the gaps were in our healthcare system and how we might be able to use this new concept to bridge those gaps," said Porter.
The grant allowed Abbeville Area Medical Center to locate patients across the county, most of whom have chronic health conditions and have trouble receiving care due to a lack of transportation, insurance or both. Through the program, trained paramedics visit patients at their homes to do regular health checks. The SCRHRC's data shows that these preventative visits are curbing the need for emergency services.
“We anticipated emergency room use to go down," said Dr. Bennett, "We didn't anticipate it to go down as quickly and so dramatically. Emergency room use went down I think about 65-70% within the first 6 months."
Rhonda Bryant is one patient who has been helped by the program. The Abbeville native has diabetes and high blood pressure. She has no family in the area to help her get to doctors appointments or pick up prescriptions. When she found out about the Community Paramedicine program, she found more than just the extra health care help she needed.
“My diabetes had gotten out of control, but I didn't have anybody. So I'm grateful for the help it makes me feel good when they come out and like I said before to know somebody cares," said Bryant.
The program has even had a positive impact on the health professionals who run it. Heather Martin is a registered nurse who used to work in traditional home health care, but is now a liaison between the Abbeville Area Medical Center and the Community Paramedicine program. She says working with this program is so rewarding because the patients, who are unable to pay for traditional home care, are so grateful for their help.
“Oh it puts a big smile on your face! It's a feeling of…that you've accomplished- you know- your goal," said Martin.
After about of year in full operation, the program has been labeled a success and organizers do not see it slowing down any time soon. Abbeville Area Medical Center will seek a Duke Endowment to continue offering the service after their initial grant expires in July 2015.