Penny Irvin was living in a local hotel and had a severe case of diabetes.
Barely able to afford the cost to keep a roof over her head, let alone buy groceries, Irvin was surviving by eating the pastries in the hotel lobby. Her diet only made her condition worse, leading to frequent calls to 911 for medical emergencies.
Seeing the troubling pattern developing, Clackamas Fire's new Community Paramedic Amy Jo Cook paid Irvin a visit at the Sunnyside Inn in Clackamas. Cook knocked on Irvin's hotel-room door, not in response to a 911 call like the previous Clackamas Fire paramedics, but just to check in with her.
"Now that you're not in crisis, what else can we do for you?" Cook remembers asking Irvin.
Clackamas Fire personnel respond to more than 20,000 incidents annually, 70 percent of which are medical in nature. A year and a half ago, Clackamas Fire officials created the community paramedic position to assist in answering the growing number of medical calls in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. Cook, a veteran of Clackamas Fire since 2008, took charge of the program to provide integrated health services and outreach to the medically fragile and vulnerable.
"I'm right there on their doorstep, so I can see some of the barriers," Cook said.
Cook partners with American Medical Response Community Paramedic Dan Hall to assist citizens with the greatest need for medical services.
"Amy Jo and I collaborate on many different levels to bring community paramedicine to all areas of Clackamas County so that no citizen in need is untouched," Hall said.
Oregon City Police Department Homeless Liaison Officer Mike Day also works closely with Cook. As the initial point of contact for chronically homeless individuals living on the streets in Oregon City, Day can follow up with Cook's attempts to provide medical resources by assisting in locating housing along with the appropriate services.
"Ms. Cook and I will continue to work together to reduce homelessness in the community," Day said. "We share a common mission of connecting individuals in need of resources with available resources."
Clackamas County's Small Grants Program awarded $10,000 to Cook's Multi-Agency Homeless Outreach Project this year. Clackamas Fire's community-paramedic program, largely funded by the fire district itself, has helped get several people out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Irvin now lives in an apartment and keeps in touch with Cook.
"Penny ended up in a crisis situation where she was constantly calling 911," Cook said. "Nobody wants to live like that. We worked with her since last spring getting her connected with a primary care physician and specialists."
Cook, Day and Hall are key members of the new local Multi-Agency Homeless Outreach Project to connect the most vulnerable local population with available resources, such as medical and mental health care. Cook said that bridging the gap between available resources and the people who need them the most is the biggest obstacle for Clackamas County's at-risk citizens.
With that in mind, Clackamas Fire District #1 is hosting its inaugural Resource Fair, designed to bring community resources to citizens who need them the most within Clackamas County. The Resource Fair will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, in Barclay Park (next to Father's Heart Street Ministry), 711 12th St., Oregon City.
Cook said all are welcome to visit a pop-up heated tent that will be in the park to connect individuals with access to medical care, addiction services, employment agencies, insurance enrollment, mental health professionals, homelessness prevention advocates, eviction mitigation and other county resources.
"I wanted to bring the flu shot to where people hang out," Cook said, referring to the central Oregon City area with a more dense homeless population. "Open enrollment for insurance is right now, so it's the perfect time to connect people with an insurance company."