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September 11, 2020

$1.2M grant will fund Jackman, Winterport health care access pilot programs

Photo / Maureen Milliken Lori Dwyer, CEO of Penobscot Community Health Care, which has been awarded a $1.2 million grant to fund a pilot program that allows paramedics to perform critical care in Jackman.

A $1.2 million grant awarded to Penobscot Community Health Care, in Bangor, will help fund a pilot program that allows paramedics to perform emergency care functions usually reserved for doctors, and is designed to improve health care access for Maine's rural residents.

The grant for the pilot program at Jackman Health Center and a less extensive one in Winterport is through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Telehealth Network Grant Program.

"We are absolutely thrilled and grateful for this generous support from HRSA,” said Penobscot Community Health Care President and CEO Lori Dwyer. “The parahealth program, based in Jackman, is groundbreaking in Maine and nationally and will ultimately provide this rural community with much greater access to high quality, emergent care. Across the country, rural communities are desperately in need of this access. This grant allows us to pioneer and provide an excellent model of care.”

Dwyer told Mainebiz Thursday that the only other state that has such a program is Alaska. She said it's a program that can be used in many ways across Maine to help patients who are far from hospitals get needed emergency care faster. "Part of the goal of the grant is to find a way to make the program sustainable," she said.

The grant will help cover costs for the Critical Access Physician Extender Program in Jackman and the Critical Access Physician Consultation Pilot Program in Winterport.

It will pay to train paramedics to perform urgent care skills under the direction of an emergency department via telemedicine, respond to acute 911 calls with local volunteer ambulance staff to provide in-home community paramedicine services and pilot an emergency department physician consult program.

Maine Emergency Medical Service, part of the state Department of Public Safety, gave the go-ahead last month to the Jackman pilot program, which is a partnership between the town, North East Mobile Health Services, PCHC and St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor.

Providing needed emergency care

The Jackman program trains paramedics to provide expanded clinical skills, thereby enabling them to fill gaps in staffing at the Jackman Community Health Clinic so it can maintain round-the-clock urgent and advanced life support coverage. If successful, it could be expanded to other areas of Maine, officials said.

Part of the funding will help create apartments for paramedics on rotation in the program in space that was once a nursing home in the Jackman Health Center, Dwyer said.

In Winterport, the program will allow primary care physicians at PCHC's Winterport Community Health Center to connect with emergency physicians at St. Joseph Medical Center, in Bangor, to help provide immediate emergency care. The town is about half an hour's drive from the nearest hospital, in Bangor.

The parahealth program is possible after a new law signed by Gov. Janet Mills in March allows paramedics, with extra training, to give enhanced emergency treatment to patients, with approval from a connected hospital. In the Jackman program, the hospital is St. Joseph.

The clinic, in northern Somerset County near the Canada border, and operated by PCHC, had provided 24-hour service for years, most recently as part of Augusta-based MaineGeneral Health. The health system ended its services there in 2018 after running at a loss for a decade. The nearest hospital is Northern Light C.A. Dean Hospital, about a 90-minute drive away in Greenville, or Redington-Fairview General Hospital, nearly two hours away in Skowhegan — and that's in good weather.

Expanded clinical skills that paramedics will be trained to provide include fiberglass splinting, non-sedated joint dislocation reduction, urinary catheter placement, wound management, local and regional anesthesia, soft tissue acute foreign body removal, rapid sequence intubation, ventilator management, EENT procedures and ultrasounds. In addition, skills of the medical assistant will have been taught by PCHC during orientation and training, including telemedicine facilitation and other procedures as identified by the Medical Oversight Committee or the Community Oversight Committee.

The grant award was announced jointly by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Thursday.

“Community health centers are the backbone of Maine’s rural health care system," they said in a joint news release. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, these medical providers are needed now more than ever."

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