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Las Cruces Fire Department: Mobile Integrated Healthcare

Firefighters walk not only into flames, but into the homes of citizens. It’s in these homes that the Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD) has seen a new need it can provide to the community - connecting citizens with resources that may aid in the quality of their lives.

For the last two years, LCFD has provided the Mobile Integrated Healthcare program to the resident of Las Cruces. It came first from the recognition that there was a gap in healthcare for those residents who want retain their independence in their homes, but who had been depending on LCFD fulfilling their needs.

“The challenges are anywhere from transportation-related to as simple as having durable medical equipment fail and repairs not being covered by their insurance or Medicaid,” said Paul Ford, LCFD Mobile Integrated Healthcare coordinator. “Since we’ve started the MIH program, and investigating their needs, we’ve seen a profound drop in those who would call the fire department at least once a day, by almost 90 percent.”

Ford, along with part-time staff, focuses on finding the barriers between residents and resources within the Las Cruces community to manage their care for example helping them get their medications or being able to repair their walkers or even let them know about reduced- price transportation for seniors in Las Cruces.

“We understand that many people do not want to lose their independence,” said Ford, “and when we knock on their door, they are usually more willing to open up and let us see the real situation they are in. Sometimes all it takes is to get their permission to call their children to let them know that their parent needs more help.”

LCFD works with both Memorial Medical Center (MMC) and MountainView Regional Medical Center (MVM) to invite physicians and social workers to join them on visits, bridging the gap between what a provider may see at a clinic to the condition that patients may face at home.

Dr. Roberto Aguero, a second-year medical resident at MMC, “I think every doctor in primary care should have this experience. It lets you see the harder aspects of what patients have to deal with to get to their doctor appointments and be on medications and get medications and what happens if they can’t get to follow-up appointments. Some can’t get out of the door or have literacy issues.”

Aguero explains that what happens with an emergency transport is not only not the best care for a patient long term, but also isn’t the best for the community. “Ending up in the emergency department is the worst place to get your care. It’s the most expensive and the least effective,” said Aguero. “Something like the MIH program can get into their homes and see what their needs are and gets them out of the hospital; it pays for itself 10 times over.”

He recalled a patient in Silver City who would benefit from a program like MIH. “She has schizophrenia and a hypothyroid, but when she forgets to take her medicine, she quickly decompensates,” said Aguero. “For a 20-year-old lady who is trying to stay in school and get ahead, very disabling to her and threatens her success in life.”

LCFD also reached out to New Mexico State University to create a partnership where graduate students from its social work program work with MIH to fill gaps, especially with case management. Mendy Fowler, in her last year in the graduate program, was the first student who rode along with Ford on patient visits.

“We get to have the boots-on-the-ground experience,” Fowler said. “We can evaluate the resources that the community has to offer, and find the gaps, especially for transportation.”

“But there are so many barriers, not just transportation,” said Fowler. “Other things are an issue, too, like food and housing insecurity, and even problems with heating and cooling. We are working to lessen some of the health disparities that the community faces by lessen barriers and make those connections to the community.”

If you are interested in knowing more about the MIH program, or would like to make a connection between the program or a business that may be a new resource for the MIH program to the community, please contact Paul Ford at (575) 528.3473 or pford@las-cruces.org.

Submitted by The Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD), which proudly serves New Mexico's second largest city with professional firefighters, who are licensed EMTs, and civilian employees. The department responds to more than 17,000 calls for service annually and is an ISO Class 1 fire department.