CORAL SPRINGS, FL - When an elderly Coral Springs couple moved into a second-floor apartment and couldn’t get downstairs, they called the city’s Fire Department for help.
A short time later, they called again when the same thing happened – and then they called yet again.
The three fire rescue responses, with fighters in full gear and in trucks, cost taxpayers: up to $6,000, fire officials said.
This had to stop, they said, so they called in Susan Toolan.
She’s the department’s community paramedic – a rare job in urban fire departments whose responsibility is troubleshooting situations to reduce unnecessary calls as well as go to bat for residents in need of medications, food, housing, and other medical and social services, especially in underserved neighborhoods.
Toolan isn’t assigned to a fire station or an ambulance crew. Instead, she works the phone and computer and goes to homes, hospitals, and other places to help people who have fallen through the cracks of the region’s safety net system and have relied on the city’s firefighters and paramedics for costly and unnecessary calls for assistance.
“I’m there to give people a peace of mind to be able to live a better quality of life,” Toolan said. “There is help out there. You just need to know where to go and who to ask for.”
On the job for nearly five years, she has saved Coral Springs tens of thousands of dollars – perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars – every year, said Juan Cardona, a division chief in the department. Toolan’s salary is about $70,000, she said.
“She’s invaluable,” Cardona said. “Susan provides services that typically aren’t provided by 911 services. She evaluates patients beyond medical needs and helps them with their social needs – healthcare, insurance, Medicare, and she’s able to figure out the underlying causes of these emergency calls.”
In the case of the elderly couple living on the second floor, Toolan contacted the landlord and helped the couple find a first-floor apartment. The couple hasn’t called the department since, she said.
Other situations are more complex. She remembers a case when the department took a patient to a hospital who was suffering a stroke. The patient was soon released without a plan for long-term care, so he came home, got depressed, and basically “lost all hope in life,” she said. Toolan worked with the family to get him into a rehabilitation center and help him recover.
“Something was missed here,” she said.
Toolan, who has worked for the department for 21 years, is just one of two community paramedics in Broward County.
She said she’s helped more than 500 people in Coral Springs and neighboring cities resolve medical and social problems.
“I love the freedom to come and go and help people. My bosses let me take the bull by the horns and just go,” she said.