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Special Ops Combat Medic Is First John C. Lincoln Transition Coach

Special Ops Combat Medic Is First John C. Lincoln Transition Coach
Thomas Jarnagin, John C. Lincoln's first transition coach.

A special operations combat medic recently returned from Afghanistan has been hired as John C. Lincoln's first transition coach to help at-risk Medicare patients stay healthy after release from hospitalization, announced Nathan Anspach, senior vice president and CEO for the Network's Physician Network and Accountable Care Organization.

Thomas Jarnagin, a 24-year-old Army veteran, will begin visiting designated Medicare patients in John C. Lincoln's North Mountain and Deer Valley hospitals in mid-August and follow-up with them after they go home. Between now and then, he will be trained in patient communication skills, HIPAA and other applicable government regulations, hospital and community resources, use of electronic health records systems and paraprofessional counseling.

More than a dozen transition coaches will ultimately be employed by the Health Network to help elderly and other frail hospital inpatients successfully transition and maintain health at home to help reduce hospital readmissions, especially those that occur for reasons that could be readily remedied.

The transition coach assists patients for 30 days after hospital discharge to empower them to manage and maintain their own health care. They help patients manage medications, ensure follow-up medical care and access to community resources for transportation, nutrition and other necessities.

Thomas Jarnagin, John C. Lincoln's First Transition Coach, on Deployment in Afghanistan
While on deployment in Afghanistan, Jarnagin provided emergency medical aid to wounded combat troops.

The coaches do not provide clinical care, but monitor activities of daily living to be sure that health relapses do not occur for avoidable reasons such as inability to get to the pharmacy to fill drug prescriptions or to the grocery store for food. The coaches are also trained to check patients' homes to be sure they are safe with no obvious health hazards.

The job as transition coach is quite a health care career transition for Jarnagin, who until recently was on the front lines in the Afghanistan war zone to provide emergency medical aid to wounded combat troops.

When not out on night missions with his infantry platoon, Jarnagin was responsible for providing primary care at the Forward Operations Base to soldiers sick with any of a seemingly infinite variety of illnesses that proliferate in third world countries.

Considering that performing minor surgical procedures on wounded warriors was routine when Jarnagin was in the Army, it's understandable that he feels a little under-employed in his new job. But civilian rules require different kinds of formal health care training than was provided by Jarnagin's military combat medic schools, so until Jarnagin successfully completes coursework for an EMT or RN degree, the law limits his professional opportunities.

"But I really want to stay in the health care field and help people," he said. "This job gives me the opportunity to do just that — and John C. Lincoln's employee benefits will help me advance in my civilian health care career." Additionally, as a Valley native, he was happy to be able to find a health care job in his home community so he could live near his extended family.

The health transition coach program was conceptualized by a John C. Lincoln team including Anspach, Caryn Unterschuetz, educational consultant in Organizational Development, and Nancy Sherman, director of Network Finance, as their proposal in a national competition to develop new uses of technology in health care to create jobs for returning Afghan and Iraq war veterans.

John C. Lincoln's proposal to hire combat medics as transition coaches, titled "A New Dimension of Service to the Country," was the national winner in the Startup America Policy Challenge sponsored by the White House, the U.S. Departments of Education, Energy, and Health and Human Services in conjunction with Arizona State University.

As health transition coaches, the military medics would be assigned to Medicare patients whom they would assist for 30 days after hospital discharge, to empower the patients to manage and maintain their own health care.

The John C. Lincoln proposal was chosen as the winning finalist from 41 semifinalists representing major universities and other research institutions from across the nation, Anspach said.

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