Rockingham County’s new Integrated Health Care program features SUV filled with medical gear

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- With an SUV filled with medical gear, Elena Walker visits three to five patients in their homes every day.

She checks vital signs, medications, and assesses the patient's overall welfare.

“Do they have food? Do they have heat? Are they able to take care of themselves?” she said.

Walker is one of two community paramedics who are part of Rockingham County's new Integrated Health Care program.

“My job is trying to figure out how to prevent emergencies,” Walker said.

The goal of the program, which started in January, is to reduce calls to 911 by helping patients who are chronically ill get healthy in their homes.

The program integrates the Department of Health and Human Services, EMS and 911.

“Get them healthier so they would not have to use emergency services as an urgent care,” said program manager Lisa Ellington.

Ellington says they created the program after noticing that the same patients were frequently calling EMS even when there wasn't an emergency.

“Maybe they just needed help moving from bed to a wheelchair or from wheelchair to bed and those kind of things,” Ellington said. “Those are not what emergency services is intended for.”

Ellington says some would call 911 several times a week or even a day.

"Some of the utilizers were as high as 20, 30, 40 times a year," she said.

The program also has a social worker and a behavioral health specialist who help link patients to insurance, counseling, medication, and other resources.

“Our end goal is get them as healthy as they can be and in their homes,” Ellington said.

So far, Ellington says more than 60 people have participated in the program.

She says the goal is to try to get people stabilized in their homes within 120 days.

The program was made possible through a $1.5 million grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, according to Ellington.