Community Paramedic Program Announced by University’s Congress of Neighboring Communities

Issue Date: 
March 25, 2013

Residents suffering from chronic medical conditions will soon be able to better manage their health conditions at home with the help of a new initiative in which specially trained emergency medical service (EMS) personnel deliver in-home disease management services.

Through the novel CONNECT Community Paramedic pilot program, specially trained EMS personnel will provide customized care to residents in Pittsburgh and 36 neighboring communities who are struggling to manage such chronic diseases as diabetes, asthma, and chronic heart disease. The program is a partnership between the University of Pittsburgh’s Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT), Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, UPMC, the Allegheny County EMS Council, and the Center for Emergency Medicine of Western Pennsylvania Inc.

The number of organizations and municipalities partnering in the effort will make it one of the largest community paramedic programs in the country. The two-year, $600,000 pilot project will begin in mid-2013.

“EMS services transcend municipal borders, and we are very excited that we could bring together our funding partners, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and UPMC, in this unique partnership that will greatly benefit our region,” said Kathy Risko, executive director of CONNECT, part of the Center for Metropolitan Studies in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

“CONNECT is honored to be a lead partner in this important initiative that will provide a critical service to our communities’ most vulnerable residents. This truly demonstrates the importance of collaboration between the City of Pittsburgh and the municipalities that comprise our urban core,” said Dan DeMarco, chair of CONNECT’s executive committee and Ross Township commissioner.

Patients will be referred into the CONNECT Community Paramedic Program by EMS agencies, hospital emergency departments, Highmark, and UPMC, resulting in visits from community paramedics. A 10-digit nonemergency number will be given to patients to call for questions or concerns about health care, giving them an optimal alternative to making medically unnecessary emergency services phone calls. By working closely with patients’ primary care doctors and a variety of social service agencies, the community paramedics will then help patients determine the levels of care that are needed.

“Community paramedics will allow our EMS agencies to expand their traditional day-to-day emergency response role and assist certain residents in better managing their chronic medical conditions,” said J.R. Henry, a member of the executive committee of the Allegheny County EMS Council and CONNECT’s executive committee.

The expected benefits of the program are decreased emergency department and EMS utilization, more effective use of limited EMS resources allowing for more timely responses, better-coordinated care between local social service agencies, and better care and follow-up services for patients relying on emergency services. Patients participating in the program are expected to benefit from fewer hospitalizations, better health care coordination, and lower health care expenses.

“We have been running pilot programs like this for almost a decade, with promising results,” said Douglas Garretson, president and CEO of the Center for Emergency Medicine of Western Pennsylvania, which will help to train the community paramedics. “Our preliminary data show that patients are better able to manage their conditions when they can call on paramedics to help them. Several cities across the country are looking at Pittsburgh as the model for this type of program.”

CONNECT was initiated in 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ Center for Metropolitan Studies, where it is based; it was developed to function as a forum for local cooperation and to address mutual concerns and interests for the City of Pittsburgh and its urban core communities. CONNECT’s mission is to coordinate the activities of these municipalities by advocating for and voicing the collective interests of the urban core and its more than 690,000 residents, developing and enhancing ways the 37 municipalities work together to deliver important public services, and maintaining a forum for the discussion, deliberation, and implementation of new ways to maximize economic prosperity for Western Pennsylvania. Visit for more information.