Mobile health care may be on Naperville’s Springfield wish list

An ambulance idled between calls at the Naperville Fire Department's main headquarters could soon make fewer runs to area emergency rooms, if a collaborative mobile healthcare service now under consideration is launched in the city. | Susan Frick Carlman/Sun-Times Media

A new, prevention-forward approach to medical care on the radar for Naperville legislators and public safety responders could bring benefit to local health care consumers and Edward Hospital as well.

City Council members this week added to their draft list of 2015 state funding requests $1 million to help establish a regionally based traveling team of health care providers whose job would be keeping people from having to go back to hospitals after they’ve undergone inpatient treatments and surgeries.

Amy Emery, assistant to the city manager, said the service, known as mobile integrated health care, involves public safety agencies partnering with local hospitals to provide the sort of “preventive post-operative care” known to cut readmissions and demands on emergency responders for non-emergency calls.

According to Fire Department Chief Mark Puknaitis, the service is offered in many locations nationwide, but has not yet come to Illinois.

“Mobile integrated health care really stems out of the new healthcare legislation that has come about, where hospitals are being fined when they get readmittals,” Puknaitis said, alluding to the penalties imposed if patients return to the hospital less than 30 days after discharge. “It provides an emergency medical unit in a non-emergent way that could be paired up with hospital staff and fire department personnel to provide postoperative or just ongoing examinations to patients that are in need throughout the city. …Sometimes people don’t have any other resort but to dial those three numbers, 9-1-1.”

Among the areas where savings are realized through local mobile health provider partnerships, he said, are patients’ and insurers’ hospital bills, Medicare and ambulance fees, which can range up to $700 or more.

The policy now is most commonly in place in Western states, the chief said, including Oregon, where one countywide entity covers 16 municipalities.

“This is a multimillion-dollar-saving attempt and has been working very successfully in other areas of the country,” Puknaitis said. “This is a big initiative on many hospitals. I know Edward Hospital is very much interested in this. So are many of the other private care providers.”

Precise figures weren’t immediately available, but spokesman Keith Hartenberger said Edward was fined between $150,000 and $200,000 in the past year for postoperative readmissions in the 30-day window. There has been preliminary discussion with some of the providers of Edward’s emergency services, but no plans have yet been made to launch the mobile option.

The primary aim, Puknaitis said, is providing better service to the community by preventing unneeded hospital visits. While the program pays for itself once it’s in place, he noted, it isn’t about generating new revenue.

If it is eventually implemented locally, the municipally administered mobile medical care would provide services at a level determined by the amount of funding local governments are willing to provide. It also would be driven by how many local public and private health providers and taxing bodies want in.

“Everybody has to work together with this,” Puknaitis said. “It’s not just us.”

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