When the team arrived at the elderly woman’s home one afternoon, they discovered she was overdue for her prescribed insulin and her blood sugar was high.
“One of the paramedics cooked her an egg while I contacted her physician and checked on her insulin dosage,” says Captain Jessica Banks, a paramedic, firefighter and R.N. with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue in south Florida. In the meantime, our social worker on the scene evaluated her eligibility status and began connecting her with social services.
The scenario is a common one in Palm Beach County, where the fi re department responds to many calls for elderly people with chronic health conditions. But it’s only in the last few years that the response has changed, thanks to the agency’s high-frequency user program, established in conjunction with their hospital partners and other local agencies. The program focuses on individuals who typically make 10 or more 911 calls in a month.
Before Banks and her team left that day, they scheduled a follow-up appointment with the woman’s physician and coordinated more frequent home health aide visits. For some patients, the team’s primary focus is connecting them to resources they simply don’t know how to access, such as veterans who don’t realize the benefits they have available to them. Other times, an underlying opioid addiction or other substance abuse problem must be addressed first.
“It’s all about closing the loop for people and helping them get the services they need,” Banks says.
BUILDING SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS
Palm Beach County’s high-frequency utilizer (HFU) program was developed with the specific goals of improving patient care and outcomes, enhancing the patient experience and reducing overall healthcare costs. It was the first of many successful initiatives spearheaded by Banks, the department’s hospital liaison and strategic initiatives coordinator, and her department’s Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) program.
Although MIH programs have been popping up around the country for several years, Palm Beach’s program was one of the first to include licensed clinical social workers on staff, which Banks argues is key to the program’s success.
Banks’ success with the MIH program led new opportunities, including her role as assistant designated infection control officer, for which she has developed training and education programs and provided guidance for personnel exposed to an infectious dis-ease. In addition, as a narcotics control officer, Banks is also managing the department’s compliance with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency regulations, which she acknowledges is a challenging area for most EMS agencies. In this role, she’s consulted with local law enforcement and also acquired a chemical digestion system for on-site narcotics disposal.
MEETING NEW CHALLENGES
This is not the kind of work that Banks imagined herself doing when she started in EMS 15 years ago. After receiving a B.S. in biology at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Banks was accepted into a physician’s assistant program.
“I had a passion for science, medicine and sports since childhood,” she says. “I knew I would work in one of those fields, but EMS was not on my radar at first.”
That summer, while trying to figure out how to pay for graduate school, she attended Palm Beach State College’s EMT school, which included clinical time at a local fire station.
“It was love at first sight,” Banks explains. “How did I not know about this? Emergency medicine, fire, athleticism, teamwork, fun and no cubicle! It was a dream job,” she says.
After the fire academy and paramedic school, she was hired by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. She spent 12 years in the field before taking on a position in the office.
“Transitioning from the field to an administrative role also gave me the opportunity to realize new strengths I was unaware of, like legislative matters, finance and new program development and implementation,” she says.
This year, after three years in administration and having recently been promoted to captain, Banks is once again heading back into the field to serve as a company officer. She’s excited to return to the station and face new challenges and opportunities for growth. Responding to calls as a captain will also provide a new vantage point for Banks to observe the programs she helped create and seek out other ways to better serve people in the community.
“Our agency incorporates progressive, evidenced-based care and treatment practices and offers opportunities to serve in many different areas,” Banks says. “I’m fortunate to work for an organization that encourages upward mobility and promotes innovative service delivery models.”