More than three years after the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District started a new dedicated community outreach effort to reduce non-emergency calls, CJCares has helped to lower the department’s call load.

By helping with health and wellness issues in their homes, the fire district applies a fire prevention model to reduce medical calls for issues such as falls and medical transports from chronic conditions.

“We’ve done that forever for fire calls; this is just applying it for EMS calls,” CJC assistant Chief Chip Portz said.

CJCares is an acronym for Central Jackson County/Community Assessment and Resource Evaluation Service. The fire district, which covers most of Blue Springs and Grain Valley and surrounding areas in Eastern Jackson County, started the program in September 2016, partnering with St. Mary’s Medical Center. It dedicates two community paramedics (a certification level above paramedic, Portz said) as well as one vehicle to the program.

From 2018 to 2019, Portz said, CJC received 54 percent fewer calls from people who had been repeat non-emergency callers. While it’s “hard to count what doesn’t happen,” he said, it generally means hundreds fewer calls for the fire district over the course of the year.

“We’ve gone from just addressing frequent callers, to we’re also expanding to the population health piece,” he said. “We continue to look for ways to expand. We’ve done a ton of different little programs, but the big focus is repeat callers.”

In addition, as Portz points out, it means less wear on other department vehicles, patients receive better care overall and emergency resources are available for more emergency calls.

“It’s a completely different set of challenges, a different mindset than what we normally encounter,” said paramedic Mickey Hill, who along with Beth Delk makes up the CJCares team. “I really like seeing people and helping people through the duration.

Many times as a firefighter we see someone (on a medical call) for 20, 30 minutes max, and then we never see them again. We’d like to help a person more, but there wasn’t an outlet for that. I get to be that outlet.”

Hill has been with CJCares for nearly two years, but he’s been with the fire district for 17, and he volunteered to make the move when an opening came up.

“The part that interested me was it’s something that’s completely different than normal day-to-day fire operations; it’s such a brand-new concept,” Hill said. “We view it as a preventative measure. We get to them and help them before it becomes a big issue, they get to stay in their homes longer.”

Ports said with most frequent callers, CJCares will do a home safety assessment, which includes a medication inventory. A big point of emphasis they want to tackle now is preventing falls, which make up more than 15 percent of call CJC calls. They’re partnering with St. Mary’s and Vesper Hall senior center in Blue Springs on a program to prevent falls, which will include balance exercises for daily use beyond rehabilitation, and reviewing medications and eyesight.

With home visits, Hill explained, they’ll check: do they need a raised toilet seat or grab bars, and is carpeting and flooring secure to lessen possible trips and slips.

“It’s a comprehensive approach. It’s going to be a mounting task,” Hill said, regarding the increasing elderly population, but fewer falls mean fewer broken hips and other bones – and healthier home living.

CJCares also tries to reach younger citizens, such as a hands-only CPR class for fourth and fifth graders last week. Hill and Delk explain why CPR is performed and how to recognize if someone needs it.

“We’ve done that for the last two years; that’s a lot of fun,” Hill said of CPR and similar education programs. “Chief Portz has let us expand this program to help where we feel we can make a difference, as long as we’re keeping in the mission of reducing 911 calls.”