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Emergency Medical Services/Peer Support Rural Response Teams: An Innovative Model for Enhancing Linkages to Care

Publication Date: 1/19/2023

In rural Sauk County, Wisconsin, if you are seen by emergency medical services (EMS) for anything substance use-related—stomach pains from drinking too much or an accidental or intentional overdose, for example—you receive a follow-up visit from response teams. A collaboration among Public Health Sauk County (PHSC), WisHope (a recovery community organization), and all six local EMS agencies, Sauk County Response Teams (SCRTs) are composed of EMS and a WisHope peer recovery coach. The teams make in-home or in-jail visit attempts to streamline a connection to needed services. The Sauk County Overdose Death Review Team recommended, planned, and helped implement SCRTs. The team reviewed multiple deaths in which the decedents had been previously seen by EMS for nonfatal incidents. The team also held a meeting to map area gaps in service delivery after a drug-related EMS incident and prioritized SCRTs as a solution to enhance linkages to care. PHSC applied and was awarded a grant, formed a planning committee, and hired an experienced consultant. SCRTs launched in May 2021. The teams receive about 10 referrals per month, and follow-up visits end in a successful connection with the client or a household member about half the time. Clients receive warm handoffs to services such as long-term peer support, treatment, harm reduction (Narcan, fentanyl test strips, education), and others (FoodShare, food pantries, health insurance, health and mental health care appointments, job training referrals, housing assistance, etc.). Monthly activity reports track referrals, rates of contact, clients’ ages and genders, and substances used.

Keywords: rural Sauk County Wisconsin emergency medical services EMS substance use overdose response team public health WisHope recovery community organization peer recovery coach decedent warm handoff long-term peer support treatment harm reduction Narcan fentanyl test strips education referral