Paramedicine Community Care are angels among us

·6 min read

HURON-PERTH – Angels are among us, we just don’t see them.

These angels are paramedicine community care paramedics. They have been quietly going about their work in Huron County for six years, and they have stepped up to the plate to help out with the COVID-19 crisis, putting their lives on the line every day to help those who need it.

The goals of community paramedicine are to decrease non-emergency 9-1-1 calls, decrease avoidable emergency room visits and provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time.

Community Paramedicine Coordinator, Joanne Hickey, spoke with Midwestern Newspapers about the vital work these paramedics perform daily.

She said they “aim to enhance services that are being provided, reach out to the isolated and vulnerable citizens in our county and utilize the paramedics skill set to their fullest. Paramedics see the person where they are at.”

“You are able to identify risks, hazards and issues in their home they may be too overwhelmed or embarrassed to speak with their Family Health Team about. Most people want to continue to live safely in their home and they fear if they admit to issues, they may be ‘put into the Home’,” said Hickey.

“Our program supports those waiting for long term care in the community, early safe discharge from hospital and chronic disease management.”

She highlighted the fact that they do not have a waiting list. They accept 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 needs of the person; some are daily, most are a few times a week.”

The wait time for home care services in the South-West region (which includes Huron County) is two days for patients in-hospital and six days if the patient is waiting at home, Health Quality Ontario website said.

“This is the median number of days new patients 19 or older waited to receive publicly-funded home care. The median is the midpoint at which half of patients waited less and half waited longer. A lower number of days is better. The wait is measured from a request for service to their first home visit for those who applied in the community, or from hospital discharge to their first home visit for those who applied in the hospital. Services include nursing (such as administering medication and changing dressings), and personal support for complex needs (such as assistance with bathing and eating),” states the website.

The beauty of the community paramedics is that they can fill the gaps.

Huron County currently has two full-time paramedics who work 12-hour shifts and four part-time paramedics who are available to cover sick days.

There are several services that the community paramedicine provides, including paramedic referrals, wellness clinics, Project Lifesaver Huron, public access defibrillators, and Cool Aid Cards.

Hickey outlined the specifics:

Paramedic referrals are one of the most important actions paramedics can take to support people in their own homes. As a paramedic, they can see missed or unfilled prescriptions, people who do not understand their medications and how/when to take them, a lack of food, no utilities, caregiver abuse, neglect or burnout, or lack of transportation, increased number of falls, etc.

By identifying these social determinants of health and completing a referral, paramedics can direct services to the person to allow them to return home safely.

Conversely, they can also see when a person is well supported and has everything they need at that time to remain in their home safely.

The Community Care Team is a special team of paramedics that provided support during surges during the COVID-19 Pandemic for testing in nursing homes, retirement homes, and the community. This team also received education on palliative care from Pallium to be ready to support any surge in capacity regarding patients at the end of life choosing to remain at home. Huron County council supported this team on a short-term basis.

Other programs or initiatives that the community paramedicine program has are:

Wellness Clinics: Clinics are held bi-annually in the housing units across Huron County, reaching out to over 500 tenants. Community paramedics provide screening for hypertension, diabetes, risk of falls, health teaching, and influenza immunizations.

Project Lifesaver Huron: Working in cooperation with the Huron County OPP, paramedics provide a transmitter for those at risk of wandering and becoming lost. Sixty per cent of those with Alzheimer's and 49 per cent with autism will wander. The transmitter provides a signal that is located by the OPP receiver when the person is reported missing. This is one more tool the OPP have at their disposal to find the person before any harm is done. For more information on PLH, visit Donations subsidize the cost of the transmitter, and the family pays only $10 per month.

Public Access Defibrillators: Huron County Emergency Services has placed over 60 AEDs in public locations such as libraries, arenas, and community centres throughout the county. These AED's have a life expectancy of about ten years before the technology is deemed outdated by the manufacturer. The Community Paramedicine Program actively seeks funding to replace these AEDs to ensure the units are available and functioning when needed.

Cool Aid Cards: These cards are available for paramedics to leave in every home. They are also available at Huron County Libraries and pharmacies, and some Family Health Teams. When completed, the information on this card includes contact information, allergies, medications, any current medical diagnosis, etc., information that will help responding paramedics provide the best possible care to the patient. These cards are included in the information package that paramedics leave at every call. Contents of the package include contact information for the person/family if they would like additional home supports, health teaching regarding falls prevention, Heart and Stroke awareness, and diabetes.

Community Paramedicine is not competition for existing services or programs but instead identifies gaps and supports those who fall through the cracks in the system. Those who do not qualify for services from other agencies yet require the support to remain in their homes safely.

“Community Paramedicine was started in Huron County in 2015. While other counties and regions have secured funding for their programs, Huron County has not,” Hickey said. “However, county council has approved the many initiatives and programs we have in place. We continue to collaborate with the Ministry and Ontario Health Teams to secure funding.”

Huron County is part of a collaborative effort with eight other paramedic services seeking to secure permanent funding from Ontario Health. Although each service will have the freedom to adapt to the needs of their community, each paramedic program must contain three core elements: paramedic referrals, home visits, and wellness clinics (including immunization).

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times