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Palm Coast Saturday, Jun. 5, 2021 4 months ago

Flagler County shines in four categories in NACo 2021 Achievement Awards

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The four categories are: Health, Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Information Technology, and County Administration & Management
by: Julie Murphy Flagler County Public Information Officer

Flagler County is making its presence known nationwide for the high quality, comprehensive services it provides its residents, and was honored with National Association of Counties 2021 Achievement Awards in four categories: Health; Criminal Justice and Public Safety; Information Technology; and, County Administration and Management.

“Over the past year, county officials and frontline employees have demonstrated bold, inspirational leadership,” said NACo President Gary Moore. “This year’s Achievement Award winning programs illustrate the innovative ways counties build healthy, safe and vibrant communities across America.”

Nationally, awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide, according to the NACo press release.

Flagler County took awards in four of the 18 categories for the following programs: “Community Paramedicine” in the category of Health; “Fire Leadership Academy” in the category of Criminal Justice and Public Safety; “UGov Flagler App featuring The Flagler Virtual Reporter” in the category of Information Technology; and, “Flagler County Leadership Academy” in the category of County Administration and Management.

“It would have been such an honor to have had any one of these programs earn an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties, but to have all four of the programs we submitted awarded is truly extraordinary,” said County Administrator Jerry Cameron. “We have a great staff making great strides for the betterment of our community.”

Program submissions – about six pages per application – had to meet stringent criterion established by NACo for consideration that addressed the need, description, objectives, cost, results and success of the program, as well as a defense of its worthiness under the guidelines established.

The Flagler County Leadership Academy was created in the Fall of 2019 – about six months after Cameron was hired as administrator. He realized he had a talented, dedicated, and loyal staff that had not been given the opportunity or direction to develop to their full potential, and that there was meager to non-existent succession planning within the organization.

It welcomes participation from local governmental agencies throughout the county.

The benefit to taxpayers is that participants learn strategies and practices that enhance their effectiveness, efficiency, and the customer service they provide to residents of Flagler County. The cost of this investment in staff has averaged less than $1,000 per participant for the 8-month course.

UGov Flagler App featuring the Flagler Virtual Reporter was awarded for providing 24/7 problem reporting, road closure information, as well as a community key that provides information such as garbage collection days, school zones, voting districts, and tropical weather evacuation zones. It is available through the county’s website at www.flaglercounty.org/ugov-flagler_app.

The application, which launched on February 14, 2021 as a Valentine’s Day gift to the public, is available as a free download for both iPhone and Android platforms after nearly two years of development by the county’s Geographic Information Systems team, part of IT (Innovation Technology). Despite its newness, nearly 900 work orders were issued in the first several weeks through a robust feature of the application – The Flagler Virtual Reporter – with 91% of those problems resolved and residents notified that their concerns were addressed.

“The application streamlines the process for dealing with everyday issues. Residents report concerns, the appropriate department supervisor receives and reviews the report, staff is immediately assigned to address the issue, and it becomes part of the workflow,” said GIS Manager Darlene Pardiny. “The individual who reports the problem can track the status, and will automatically be notified when the work is finished.”

Besides the Flagler Virtual Reporter, features of the UGOV Flagler app include: event notifications; a community calendar; an FAQ; access to the county’s website and social media; the ability to email photographs; a community gallery; about us; and, contact us.

Costs for the UGov Flagler application are nominal. While Flagler County utilized an ESRI template already in use for other purposes, a one-time expense of $1,900 was incurred to tweak the application for approval by Apple and Google to make it acceptable for inclusion in their app stores. Flagler County pays $399 per month – $4,788 annually – to the company Live Tour to host the application. The hosting fee includes any edits, additions, or removals that may be required.

The Fire Leadership Academy was established in 2016 and 2017 to address a high turnover rate in Fire/EMS. With little or no incentive for youth to stay in the community after graduation and with the high cost to equip and train a new firefighter, it was clear if Flagler County was to improve retention it needed to establish a program to create its own pool of firefighters. Retired Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito was the driving force behind its development through fruition.

Flagler County Fire Rescue in cooperation with the Flagler Schools created a classroom-to-career curriculum with all state approvals needed to open its doors in January 2017, and first graduates hired in 2019. In the end, Flagler County created a program with a built in hiring pool and the potential of long-term employees that will contribute to the local economy. This program has been lauded as the first of its kind in the nation because it goes further than just preparing a student for entering the fire academy upon graduation; it prepares students to enter the workplace.

To meet the objective of becoming a Firefighter/EMT Training Center, Flagler County Fire Rescue first had to receive certification from the Florida State Fire Marshals Office, Bureau of Fire Standards and Training and the Florida Department of Health, Division of Emergency Medical Services. A classroom-to-career curriculum was approved by the State of Florida Department of Education so students could receive high school credits along with the certifications. This coursework received approvals through the Florida State Bureau of Standards and Training, as well as through the Florida State Fire College, and the Florida State Department of Education.

As a line of courses students take for credit, the credits themselves command some state dollars. Instruction would be provided by the county Fire Rescue and other community partner fire departments without requiring additional staff. Costs associated with this program were minimal with the reallocation of resources and equipment for implementation – about $100,000 per year to Flagler County to cover the instructor position – less than the approximate $110,000 expenses in the initial year to hire, equip and train a single new firefighter paramedic.

The 2020 class had 13 graduates – eight who took the State Firefighter 2 career program summer class. Seven of the eight are State Certified Firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Two of the seven students who passed are now employed with Flagler County Fire Rescue, and one is working with Jacksonville Fire Rescue. One student is looking to get hired with the Florida Forest Service.

Flagler County Fire Rescue received a second award under the “Health” category for the Community Paramedicine program that began in April 2018 to address the high call volume from recurring patients who did not need immediate medical attention – about 53% of ambulance calls and increasing. This program was also initiated by retired Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito.

It is an innovative solution designed to fill the healthcare gaps within Flagler County. It facilitates increased access to primary care by providing high quality in-home and preventative care. The Community Paramedic is an extension of the individuals’ primary care provider and a resource for patients to keep them home and healthy.

The county started tracking these calls in 2015 and found that one patient called and was transported 60 times, while another patient called 57 times and was transported 23 times. One patient accumulated more than $68,000 in ambulance transportation bills, which had not been paid.

Community Paramedic Caryn Prather made 71 home visits to 15 patients in 2018, providing more comprehensive care to address the whole person. She made 453 home visits in 2019. In 2020 during the pandemic, the Community Paramedicine program was in high demand. The idea of a more comprehensive service now included providing medically-homebound seniors with their COVID-19 vaccinations, and lifting the spirits of a group of residents whose circumstances have left them especially isolated during this yearlong pandemic. Prather and her team met with and vaccinated 323 homebound residents.

Since its inception, Prather has made over 2,000 visits to 100 patients. This increase is not only because the elderly population in Flagler County is growing, but also because she has built relationships and trust within the community. Her patients know that she will go above and beyond to ensure that they receive the information, patient care, compassion and kindness needed to make their lives better and more meaningful.

“Caryn loves what she’s doing and she cares so much,” said Interim Fire Chief Joe King. “And people know that – they don’t have to let her into their homes, but she hasn’t been turned away once.”

Calls to the 9-1-1 system for non-emergency medical needs have decreased by 80% because of the exceptional delivery of service.

The initial costs for implementation were minimal because we reallocated equipment and reassigned a paramedic from a rescue with no increase to compensation. The vehicle used was a hand me down from the Transportation Division, which was cleaned and wrapped with the logo for a cost of $2,000. The medical gear used was all in stock items to include the cardiac monitor/defibrillator, blood pressure cuffs, stethoscope and incidentals such as band aids. The paramedic position was filled two years later at a cost of around $80,000 annually. Fuel and a cell phone average around $1,500 per year total.

This program currently solicits donations from medical supply stores, pharmacies and large retail stores for items such as crutches, wheelchairs, and other medical equipment and supplies. It also receives monetary donations from multiple sources. It has formed relationships with multiple agencies – both private and public – with county, state and federal agencies assisting the paramedic in the program.

“Our staff – at every level – is working diligently, creatively, to provide great services to the Flagler County community in a cost efficient manner,” Cameron said. “These four awards are just the tip of the iceberg.”

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