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Editorial: AFD, public need more than home-visit Band-Aid

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Yes, preventative health care can help save lives. And, yes, emergency medical technicians are often the ones transporting folks to emergency rooms who have lacked that preventative care.

But tasking a fire department to make home visits to ensure discharged patients are clear on their medications and don’t have a kitchen throw rug that could trip them? That’s stretching the public safety responsibility “to save lives.”

Following a national trend, the Albuquerque Fire Department is fighting fewer fires – 4,676 in 2013 compared to 6,964 in 2006. Chief David Downey says emergency medicine is becoming a larger part of his department’s mission, with many calls about accidental medication overdoses.

While there’s no question the public is paying for those calls, expecting first responders to essentially take over discharge planning puts a hospital’s responsibility squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers. And it ignores the fact that local health care providers are moving to the coordinated-care model, emphasizing preventative and follow-up care to limit rehospitalizations, and are better situated to implement both.

Downey deserves credit for trying to make AFD more proactive than reactive while improving the quality of people’s health and his department’s bottom line. His input is an important piece of completing a successful coordinated-care model.

But firefighters, home health care workers and social workers are different kinds of trained professionals. You wouldn’t ask a case manager to run a pumper truck and you shouldn’t expect an EMT to do home evaluations.

AFD might need to revise its mission. It might need to redeploy or downsize in the wake of improved building codes and fire suppression systems that have reduced fire calls.

But its first response must be to safeguard its core responsibilities and public dollars, rather than duplicate those of other public agencies and the private sector.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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