Fishers FD, IU Health team up to bring virtual care to patients on the spot

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — It’s an effort to help improve mental health. The Fishers Fire Department and IU Health are teaming up to bring virtual care to patients on the spot and as soon as it’s needed.

The Fishers Fire Department says the program is critical. In 2020, they responded to more than 450 emergency incidents involving patients with behavioral issues, nearly a 16% increase compared to what the department saw in 2019.

The program will provide virtual psychiatric assessments and in-home consultations for individuals experiencing behavior-related incidents. These are incidents related to suicide, substance use or bipolar disorder.

When the fire department responds to these calls, they have the ability to connect patients instantly with IU Health’s virtual behavioral health hub. Psychiatrists and experienced psychiatric nurse practitioners are accessible 24-7 via iPads to provide patient consults and recommendations for the next steps in the patient’s care. The fire department says over half of these calls apply to those under the age of 18.

“What we’ve really watched is an 18-month trainwreck and I think it’s really wearing on people day to day,” Fishers Fire Captain Joe Harding said. “It would be one thing if this was just a one-off smash and grab kind of thing, but it’s not. This is just a continued thing over and over again and with reduced access to care, it’s really starting to drag on people and cause more problems at home.”

“Of the people we assess, only about half of them actually need an in-patient hospitalization and the rest can be stabilized and discharged,” Vice President of Statewide Virtual Behavioral Care at IU Health Dr. Anne Gilbert said. “I think we can decrease half of the visits to our emergency departments that are already being overwhelmed with behavioral health patients right now.”

The is the first program of its kind in the state. The Fishers Fire Department has multiple firefighters and paramedics trained in crisis responses. They say this new program won’t take other services away from Fishers residents.

Paramedics will also help the patient schedule follow-up appointments or set up in-patient visits.