By Blake Nelson
Nurses will soon be following up with people discharged from the hospital to rural communities in an effort to reduce readmission rates that have been climbing in isolated parts of the region.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to set aside more than $174,000 to launch a pilot program in the coming months.
A nurse and a paramedic will make house calls around the Mountain Empire region. The program will only be for patients of Sharp Grossmont, East County’s only hospital, although leaders could later expand the effort.
“Today’s action will proactively improve health outcomes for those living in the rural areas in my district, particularly vulnerable seniors who are home bound and don’t have access to transportation,” Supervisor Joel Anderson said in a statement.
Cities around the nation have been looking for ways to reduce pressure on hospitals and first responders, especially in the wake of the pandemic. El Cajon recently launched a program to divert less-serious 911 calls to nurses to hopefully lower emergency room wait times and eliminate unnecessary ambulance trips.
While hospital readmission rates have held steady or declined in some parts of the county, the rate for some rural communities has risen from 9 percent to nearly 17 percent in recent years, officials said.
Leaders of several local organizations, including San Diego County Fire and San Ysidro Health, have been working on the newest proposal for months.
“I think it’s a great collaboration,” Christian Wallis, CEO of the Grossmont Healthcare District, said in an interview.
The work will be split between two nurses and a firefighter/paramedic who already work for the county.
The program is voluntary and patients will be asked if they’d like to schedule a follow-up visit, according to a representative for Anderson’s office.
The nurse can check if people have enough medication, are correctly caring for any bandages and getting enough nutrition, while the paramedic will review if the person’s living conditions pose any safety hazards, officials said.
The county is spending $114,237 and the health care district is kicking in $60,000, according to public records.
Leaders hope to launch around late spring or early summer and the program will last for one year.
If officials want to continue, they will need more funds.
Wallis, the district CEO, said he hoped readmission rates would eventually drop to the point that Sharp could use the money it saves to pay for the nurses.