Community Paramedicine program helping residents across Huron County

·7 min read

HURON COUNTY – Denise Richard decided that she wanted to be a helper very young.

She was very interested in medicine and the human body. She even looked into becoming a doctor when she was younger.

“I've always just been interested in medicine and the body,” Richard said, but the length of time for the education to become a doctor was too much for her.

“So, paramedicine was my nice, kind of happy in between.”

She loves the unknown aspects of the job.

"You never know what you're going to get, and I'm the type of person if I fall into a rut or routine, I find I kind of get stuck,” she said.

“With 911, with paramedicine there's always that adrenalin, that wondering what you're going to do, what you're going to get each call, and that really intrigued me.”

She spends her time now at her job as a paramedic, rescuing dogs and driving kids in foster care to appointments.

Richard also raised two children of her own, a 19-year-old son and a daughter who is 24.

She spent most of her 20-year career working as a 911 paramedic based out of Exeter, but when the opportunity to help presented itself, Richard rolled up her sleeves, donned her personal protective equipment (PPE), and joined the team.

Richard was one of the medics deployed to Exeter Villa when they had an outbreak of COVID-19.

“I was one of the medics who went over there and helped,” she said. “They had such a critical shortage of staff.”

She helped there until an alternative plan was put in place for the part-time paramedics to go to the home and help.

“So, then the medics were starting to take shifts and help out, to relieve some of the stress off of the PSWs.”

Richard and her colleagues at Community Paramedicine (CP) have since helped with testing and vaccinating residents at the Exeter Village and other long-term care homes in the region, including Huronlea and Huronview.

“CP isn’t just the home base, we do a multitude of tasks and help out where we can in the community,” she added. “To allow the residents of Huron County to be safe and healthy, in whatever capacity that might mean.”

Craig and Linda Perkins, a retired couple who live in Meneset on the Lake, Goderich, are thrilled with the personalized care they receive from this team.

Linda and Craig were married 50 years ago and spent their lives saving their money in order to travel in their retirement.

“We are snowbirds,” Linda said. “But we can’t go anywhere now, because of COVID and because of Craig’s health problems.”

Unfortunately, Craig's health began to fail, and the pandemic made travel impossible so, they have stayed put in their cozy trailer home near the shores of Lake Huron.

Linda has negotiated the challenging and sometimes confusing access to health care like a trooper. Still, she found that sometimes she was overwhelmed with the stress of it all.

Craig was in a motorcycle accident when he was younger. With the injuries from that and other health issues happening, he was beginning to have falls.

Craig uses Life Line services for emergencies, but they use a service called “Lift Assist,” a little-known paramedic service where if you or your loved one has fallen, they will come and help to get them picked up off the ground, the floor, or wherever they may have fallen.

The addition of the community care team was a welcome blessing for Craig's health care and Linda’s peace of mind.

The knowledge of help being only a phone call away was a source of relief for Linda.

Linda felt the frustration and stress lessen “the minute they walk in the door,” she said.

The beauty of this program is the personalized care they receive.

“They take care of Craig,” Linda said. “But they also take care of me, the caregiver.”

The everyday stress of caring for Craig was overwhelming enough, but when COVID-19 hit, Linda found the extra stress challenging to deal with.

Craig is waiting for a special ultrasound on his legs to find out why they are failing him, hopefully. They had finally received word that there was an appointment booked in Stratford.

The results of this test would have given the couple some answers and hopefully a treatment plan, but due to the latest stay-at-home order, the appointment was cancelled with no new date set.

“All of these things that are getting pushed to the wayside because of COVID is heartbreaking for me,” Richard said. “These are tests that people need to allow them to be safe in their homes and be healthier, but they're getting postponed because all of our medical care is being totally directed to the treatment, and prevention of COVID.”

Richard said that even though they are not councillors or therapists, “that's part of our job, to help them.” She told Linda, ‘if you get sick, you can't help him.’

“She just doesn't feel confident or safe to leave him alone, even though he's in bed.” Richard went on to say, “even though she would get out for a walk, and Craig would be at home, she's not really relaxing. She's worrying every minute, she's gone.”

Richard encourages Linda to practice self-care and to try to take some time for herself.

Linda likes to golf. She's hoping that when the golf courses open again, she might have a home care nurse to give her a few hours off a week. Until that happens, Linda is grateful for the care she and her husband received from Richard and the community care team.

The community care program supports people waiting for long-term care in the community, early, safe discharge from hospital, and chronic disease management.

The program accepts referrals from Family Health Teams, Huron Perth Public Health, and the Home and Community Care Support Services (formerly the LHIN). Visits are scheduled based on the person's needs; some are daily most are a few times a week.

The program also accepts referrals from PERIL assessments. A PERIL assessment is when a paramedic may identify someone over 55 who is at risk.

“There may be caregiver burnout, a need for additional supports in the home, non-compliance with medications, unsafe living conditions, mobility or safety issues, to name a few,” Community Paramedicine Coordinator Joanne Hickey said. “These referrals are followed up with a phone call and an offer to visit to help the person and their caregivers navigate the health care system to remain in their home safely for as long as possible.

Added Hickey, “We supported the vulnerable homeless population in Huron County by attending the Shelter twice a week working with a Nurse Practitioner and Pharmacist to provide medical support to the guests.”

The program receives funding from Huron County council at the moment, but they are seeking permanent funding from Ontario Health.

The team provided over 300 influenza vaccinations to residents living in Huron County housing complexes, EMS staff, Huron OPP, One Care staff, and volunteers.

“We are anticipating approval to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations to those who are homebound depending on the availability of vaccine,” Hickey said.

The Community Care Team provided staff to support long-term care homes in swabbing, vaccinating, and hands-on resident care during a crisis and obtained over 85 COVID-19 swabs from those in the community who were homebound and unable to access the assessment centres.

“As we modernize care in our community, it is important that we continue to develop innovative approaches to delivering quality health care to our loved ones,” Warden Glen McNeil told the Wingham Advance Times.

“We are extremely proud of our Huron County Community Paramedicine Team, a group of highly skilled and compassionate professionals who are committed to providing health services through in-home medical treatment and at-home supports for our seniors.”

McNeil added, “I extend my heartfelt thanks to all of Huron County’s paramedics including those on the Community Paramedicine Team. We couldn’t have responded to the hurdles this year has brought us without you.”

You can find out more about the program at www.huroncounty.ca/emergency-services/paramedic-services/community-education/first-aid-and-cpr/.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times

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