Toronto's Emergency Medical Service says its community paramedic program has improved access to health care and Superior North EMS wants provincial money to launch the same kind of service in Thunder Bay, Nipigon, Marathon and Geraldton.

"The potential is huge,” said Superior North EMS chief Norm Gale, noting that paramedics' skills go far beyond responding to emergencies.

“And we're just beginning now to leverage the talent and ability of paramedics to do wonderful things."


Norm Gale, chief paramedic of Superior North EMS. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Those things include helping seniors get the home care they need, or educating them about the medication they're taking and avoiding the side effects — like falls — that often lead to 911 calls.

On Tuesday, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews announced the province will spend $6 million to expand the services paramedics across the province provide.

Matthews said the community paramedicine programs will improve access to home care and support services for seniors and others with chronic conditions.

Under the program, paramedics will visit seniors who are known to make frequent calls for emergency services, a move Matthews said will prevent unnecessary ER visits and premature admission to long-term care.

While paramedics are known for responding to emergency situations such as car crashes, they also have training and skills that could be useful in a home-care setting, she added.

'Addressing that gap'

Paramedics in Toronto started taking on more of a community care role several years ago.

The head of that program, John Klich, said it's made a difference for many patients.    

"A lot of them don't either have a family doctor, or they can't access them due to their own barriers,” he said.

“So the community paramedic role is a way of addressing that gap in that patient's health care."

Klich has some advice for communities like Thunder Bay developing community paramedicine programs: make sure they're tailored to meet the specific health needs — high rates of diabetes, for example — in the region.     

"If someone is calling 911 for a chronic care issue and, at some point along the way you connect them with supports that they now receive in their home, their reliance on 911 for that sort of management of that chronic care issue decreases."