Mobile health program allows Hanover paramedics to evaluate, test COVID-19 patients in their homes

HANOVER, Mass. — The Town of Hanover has launched a mobile integrated health program, which is described as an innovative approach toward meeting the health needs of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program is in partnership with South Shore Health, which obtained a temporary license from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for the Town of Hanover to take part. Hanover is the first municipality in Massachusetts to launch such a program.

“The Hanover Fire Department has been looking for quite a while to participate in the mobile integrated health program,” Hanover Fire Chief Jeffrey Blanchard told Boston 25 News. “The COVID-19 emergency opened the door to move things along.”

When the coronavirus started to spread in Massachusetts, South Shore Health reached out to local municipalities to see if they wanted to take part in the program and treat COVID-19 patients in their city or town.

Hanover jumped at the opportunity.

“The idea is to keep residents socially and clinically isolated in their homes,” said Hanover Fire Captain Fred Freeman, who played an integral role in getting the town’s program up and running. “We took a two-fold strategy approach - giving the patients an in-home paramedic visit, swabbing them if they meet a criteria with the doctor and then our volunteer nurse phone bank following up daily with them until they are well.”

Freeman said eleven firefighter/paramedics volunteered to receive addition training and participate in the program. The training consisted of studying the pathophysiology of the COVID-19 disease, reviewing the technique for performing a nasal swab and familiarizing themselves with the latest protocols.

The town is focusing on residents who are 65 and older and other at-risk populations.

Anyone in the above categories who has COVID-19 symptoms of fever, cough and/or shortness of breath can call the fire department’s non-emergency phone number to request an in-home evaluation by a paramedic.

The on-call paramedic will show up to the resident’s home with complete personal protective equipment and perform a complete evaluation, including checking vital signs. The paramedic will contact a doctor through South Shore Health’s telehealth system and then follow the doctor’s orders, including performing a COVID-19 test if necessary. The town’s nurses will then follow up with the patient daily until he or she is well.

“A lot of seniors find something like this comforting, where we can see them at home and then the nurses can just call the next day and check on them,” Freeman said. “People checking on the seniors alone is a big benefit.”

Dr. Kelly Lannutti is the medical director for mobile integrated health at South Shore Health. She said South Shore Health, which operates Weymouth EMS, launched their mobile integrated health program on March 1 after being granted a license from the state.

Lannutti said they’ve since had to shift gears due to the pandemic.

“The goal is really to target those populations who are most at risk, both from coming to the hospital or their primary care doctor’s office,” Lannutti said.

For patients who are tested in their own homes, the swab is sent to a Quest Diagnostics lab. The results are usually back in about 24 hours.

“It’s pretty quick,” Lannutti said. “Quick enough to allow us to help those patients, guide them in their treatment and make sure they can keep safe at home.”

Lannutti said they’re trying to utilize their telehealth program as much as possible as well.

“Patients who are eligible and need a little bit more assistance, the paramedic can help them link up to telehealth and get them a visit with a provider,” Lannutti said.

She added doctors can remotely provide patients with advice on how to treat their symptoms and advise them on how long they should stay away from other people.

Paramedics can also be deployed to facilities, such as nursing homes or rehab centers, to conduct testing.

Lannutti said South Shore Health hopes to launch mobile integrated health programs in other cities and towns as well.

“We know that right now is the most important time for patients to stay home as much as possible and we really want to facilitate that by coming to you,” Lannutti said.

Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Jason Cavallaro said the town’s mobile integrated health program was 18 months in the making and made possible by a team effort between South Shore Health and the town’s health delivery stakeholders, including the board of health, public health nurse, fire department, police department, emergency communications center, visiting nurse association, emergency management agency, public schools and technology operations.

“We're only able to get this off the ground because we've been working with South Shore Health for a few years trying to get something off the ground,” Cavallaro said. “The foundation was there. We did all the legwork, we did all the research. We had the system pretty much in place. It was just a few little tweaks here and there and then it was go.”

Cavallaro said while paramedics may be the ones conducting the house visits, other departments within the town are also providing critical services.

“If the patient needs assistance with meals or if they need help getting an item at the grocery store and don’t have the means to get there, we have several mechanisms in place through all of the agencies in town to very easily and efficiently to meet those needs,” Cavallaro said.

The program, which officially lunched on Tuesday, is free of charge to residents. The cost is covered by money the town appropriated to deal with the overall pandemic response. The Hanover Fire Department was also awarded a grant from South Shore Community Partners in Prevention. The fire department and several other town departments were also able to redirect several existing grants toward funding aspects of the program.

Hanover residents who’d like to request a visit can call the fire department’s non-emergency line at 781-826-2335 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.

As of April 14, 33 people in Hanover have tested positive for COVID-19. 14 people have recovered.