CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Over its first year, UVA Health's Community Paramedicine program has helped some of the emergency department's most frequent users reduce their number of visits while improving access to the care they need.

The program provides a variety of resources to assist patients, from connecting them with a primary-care provider to helping them navigate health-insurance needs.

The average number of visits to the emergency department dropped from eight in the 180 days before patients enrolled in the new program to three in the 180 days after enrolling.

"We work to figure out if we can make some improvements to their care if they're willing to work with us to make some changes," said Patrick Watson, one of UVA Health's three community paramedics.

The program is designed to help patients who frequently visit the emergency department for non-emergency reasons. Emergency departments and rescue squads are set up to address patients' immediate symptoms, "not the root of what's causing the symptoms," said Taylor Tereskerz, one of the community paramedics.

For Darla Rich, weekly visits from Watson and Tereskerz have been crucial in helping her manage several serious conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

"It's so nice to have someone with a pleasant smile come in to check on me," Rich said.

About 20 to 25 patients are enrolled in the program at any one time.