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City of Austin credits one-man emergency medical service for providing care to the homeless

Travis Baker is serving as an emergency care provider for vulnerable populations in Austin-Travis County.

AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin is giving credit to a local physician assistant for working as a one-man emergency service for people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations.

City leaders said Travis Baker was hired last October by the Office of the Medical Director and Austin-Travis County EMS. Since then, Baker has treated hundreds of patients, most of them on the streets, as he travels in an emergency response vehicle equipped with life-saving medical equipment.

Because he is able to meet and treat patients at the site of their emergencies, Baker has been able to deliver care rapidly and efficiently while helping save those who do not need hospitalization from having to make costly and unneeded trips to emergency rooms. This service has also helped free up ambulances to focus on emergency calls that do require transports to the hospital.

“There are huge health care disparities among vulnerable populations and this service is a new way to deliver care that helps bridge that gap,” said Baker. “While I am providing IV fluids or sewing up a wound, I am also able to give my patients information on how they can access support, social services and, ultimately, housing. I believe we are providing a valuable service for vulnerable populations in the City of Austin, and while in emergency medicine you are always seeing people on one of their worst days, I try to treat everyone I encounter with dignity and respect.”

Credit: City of Austin

Baker describes his role as a "paramedic practitioner." His appointment is believed to the first of its kind across Texas. He now makes around 100 to 120 patient contacts each month, a third of which are with those experiencing homelessness.

While on a call, Baker can receive requests from other ambulance crews and referrals from community health paramedics. He can also self-assign calls and respond where he is needed because he has access to the 911 dispatch system.

He most commonly responds to calls for wounds, abscesses, skin infections, exacerbations of existing conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, medication refills and minor injuries such as cuts or sprains. While many patients have less serious needs, some do require urgent, life-saving care and will be transported via ambulance to a nearby hospital.

“By delivering urgent care and emergency care where people need it we can better match resources with needs, reduce costs and prevent unnecessary visits to the hospital,” said EMS System Medical Director for the City of Austin and Travis County Dr. Mark Escott. “This new service highlights how Austin-Travis County is leading the way when it comes to health care provision for some of our most vulnerable residents.”

Currently, Baker's role is temporary. However, he is confident the service will prove its value and will one day be ready to expand to 24-hour coverage.

His other responsibilities include supporting the City’s community health paramedic program, instructing at the Advanced Life Support Academy, assisting with paramedic continuing education and bedside teaching.

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