Tending to seniors in a new way

ECARES brings community paramedics to the area's aging population

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/11/21

Mike Kart of Evergreen needed a lifeline. The 89-year-old wanted to stay in his home but couldn't manage alone. Among those who help him is ECARES or Evergreen Community Assistance Resources and …

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Tending to seniors in a new way

ECARES brings community paramedics to the area's aging population

Posted

Mike Kart of Evergreen needed a lifeline.

The 89-year-old wanted to stay in his home but couldn't manage alone. Among those who help him is ECARES or Evergreen Community Assistance Resources and Education Services. It's Evergreen Fire/Rescue's community paramedicine program.

“The mission is to keep people safe, healthy and well in their homes,” said Annie Dorchak, who runs ECARES for Evergreen Fire/Rescue. “We prevent people from falling, over- or under- medicating, and not seeking the resources or medical care they need. We can keep them healthy in their home.”

The goal of the program is to fulfill smaller medical needs such as checking blood pressure, giving EKGs and taking blood samples so the person — usually a senior citizen — doesn't need a doctor visit or an ambulance. The community paramedics look for clues and ask questions to make sure the senior is healthy and doesn't need further medical assistance.

The program is free, and most people are referred to the program through their doctor's offices or become part of the program after 911 calls. Sometimes they participate in the fire department's programs that check smoke detectors and spots in homes that can lead to falls.

“Sometimes we are a safety net or an intermediary,” said Dorchak, who noted that she can contact a doctor's office and speak with medical personnel quicker than a patient can. She can get answers when the patient might be reluctant to make a call.

ECARES, which has been operating two years, has been so successful that neighboring Clear Creek and Highland Rescue EMS and the Inter-Canyon and Elk Creek fire departments are hoping to partner with Evergreen to create their own programs and provide what Dorchak calls a mutual aid community paramedicine program.

For example, currently, if an Evergreen medical clinic wants Dorchak to check on a patient who lives outside Evergreen Fire/Rescue's boundaries, Dorchak doesn't go. With similar programs in all four fire departments, someone could check on the patient.

Inter-Canyon Fire Chief Skip Shirlaw said community paramedicine benefits rural populations because some residents have limited access to some health care.

“By treating community members in their homes, it helps to reduce the number of patients in hospital beds,” Shirlaw said. “It helps community members age in their homes longer, reduces unnecessary transports. … We feel the program can improve their quality of life.”

Elk Creek Fire Chief Jacob Ware added that the program helps people feel comfortable getting additional medical care.

“Somebody who may not need the ambulance or the hospital has somebody to call for assistance,” Ware said, noting that the ECARES program has been tremendously successful.

For Kart, who is a Korean War veteran and a retired police officer, the visits every two weeks by Dorchak and EMT Rachel Rush are a godsend.

“They go through my pills,” Kart said. “If there are changes in medicine, they add them in. We talk about how I'm feeling, and they check me out. I love them.”

With the average age of foothills residents increasing, a program like ECARES becomes that much more vital, and the goal is to fill in gaps that other services don't provide.

Seeing a need

Evergreen Fire/Rescue embarked on creating ECARES after voters approved a bond increase in 2016, Dorchak said.

“A lot of people told Chief (Mike Weege) that one of the things they would like is for the department to teach them how to age in place and be safe in their homes,” she explained. “The chief committed to that, and this position was budgeted for.”

Three of Evergreen's paramedics have gotten community paramedicine certifications, and three more are finishing up their certifications, Dorchak said. The ECARES personnel make house calls, not with ambulances but in SUVs.

“It's hard for me to give you a list of everything we do because we do so many things that don't end up on paper,” she said. “Sometimes we are the only people who lay eyes on them in a week.”

At Kart's house recently, Rush grabbed some tools to fix Kart's walker while Dorchak discussed Kart's medications, making sure he understood why he was taking them. She filled a pill box with the appropriate doses for each day. They sat in the kitchen chatting about what Kart has been doing in the last week.

For Kart and others, the program is a blessing.

“It's a great, great service,” Kart said. “If I didn't have these women taking care of me, I'd be in a bad place. I've never seen a fire department do what they do.”

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