NDP MLA for North Coast, Jennifer Rice, welcomed last week’s announcement of the launch of the community paramedicine program for 73 rural communities across the province.
Along with paramedics and BC Emergency Health Services, MLA Rice has been advocating for the launch of community paramedicine program for three years, frequently questioning the Minister of Health as to when the program would finally launch.
The community paramedicine program will employ full time paramedics in rural communities to not only respond in emergency situations, but also help to provide primary care within their scope of practice.
Health Minister Terry Lake announced last week the 73 rural and remote B.C. communities that will welcome community paramedicine, a program that offers residents enhanced health services from paramedics. Bella Coola is on the list.
“Instead of sitting on call for $2 an hour, paramedics in rural communities will be employed full time, allowing them to have reliable income, as well as to practice their skills and expertise in a primary care role,” said MLA Rice, who is the NDP Opposition Spokesperson for Northern and Rural Health.
Community paramedicine will be employed in Bella Bella, Bella Coola and Haida Gwaii. Other Northern BC communities included in the program include Granisle, Southside, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake, Hudson Hope, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Mackenzie, McBride, Valemount, Wells, Houston, Atlin, Dease Lake, Kitwanga and Hazelton.
“Community paramedicine isn’t a new concept. I’m from Ontario and I know similar models of care are delivered there,” Rice explained. “It’s not about replacing the current system but rather is intended to compliment it.”
In recent years, the lack of emergency services in rural areas has contributed directly to several tragedies. Rice noted one incident in particular that happened on Haida Gwaii, where Godfrey Williams, a Skidegate band councillor, passed away of a heart attack because an ambulance wasn’t available.
“Godfrey lived 10 minutes from the ambulance station,” Rice explained. “But because of inadequacies in the system, he passed away.”
The program is just one way to enhance the delivery of primary care services to British Columbians. The services provided may include checking blood pressure, assisting with diabetic care, helping to identify fall hazards, medication assessment, post-injury or illness evaluation, and assisting with respiratory conditions.
Under this program, paramedics will provide basic health-care services, within their scope of practice, in partnership with local health-care providers. The enhanced role is not intended to replace care provided by health professionals such as nurses, but rather to complement and support the work these important professionals do each day, delivered in non-urgent settings, in patients’ homes or in the community.
“As a former BC Ambulance paramedic, I understand the potential benefits of community paramedicine,” said Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky. “Expanding the role of paramedics to help care for the health and well-being of British Columbians just makes sense.”
Community paramedicine broadens the traditional focus of paramedics on pre-hospital emergency care to include disease prevention, health promotion and basic health-care services. This means a paramedic will visit rural patients in their home or community, perform assessments requested by the referring health-care professional, and record their findings to be included in the patient’s file. They will also be able to teach skills such as CPR at community clinics.
At least 80 new full-time equivalent positions will support the implementation of community paramedicine, as well as augment emergency response capabilities. Positions will be posted across the regional health authorities. The selection, orientation and placement process is expected to take about four months.
Community paramedics are expected to be delivering community health services in Northern B.C. this fall, in the Interior in early 2017, on Vancouver Island and the Vancouver coastal area, which includes Bella Coola and Bella Bella, in the spring of 2017.
BC Emergency Health Services has been co-ordinating the implementation of community paramedicine in B.C. with the Ministry of Health, regional health authorities, the Ambulance Paramedics of BC (CUPE 873), the First Nations Health Authority and others.