Paramedic house call program prevents thousands of ER visits

A Calgary medical program that reinvented the old-fashioned house call has become so popular it can't keep up with demand and is credited with preventing as many as 4,500 emergency room visits this year alone.

Community Paramedic Program provides anything from electrocardiograms to blood transfusions in homes

Lou Labrash treats patient Deb Cousins at her home as part of the Community Paramedic Program. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

A Calgary medical program that reinvented the old-fashioned house call has become so popular it can't keep up with demand, preventing as many as 4,500 emergency room visits this year alone.

The Community Paramedic Program provides help — ranging from electrocardiograms to blood transfusions — to seniors and people with chronic diseases or disabilities right in their own home.

Three years ago, when the first paramedics started making house calls, they saw about 1,600 patients. This year, they're on track to see 6,000 patients, including Deb Cousins, who has been living with Crohn's disease for three decades.

The 61-year-old has nothing but praise for the paramedics.

"They really changed my life," she says. "The doctor gets to go on to another patient, I get to be at home. It's just so good for the system and so good for everybody involved in the system."

After undergoing surgery, she suffered complications that left her body unable to absorb the fluids it needs.

The program is reducing pressure on hospitals by cutting down on ER visits, says manager Ryan Kozicky. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

She spent 51 days in hospital and was finally released into the care of community paramedics, who visited her daily for the first few months.

"I wouldn't have been allowed out of the hospital without the community paramedic program," Cousins said. "I'm happier because I'm in my home environment."

Now the crew pops in twice a week to administer IV fluids, test her blood and provide medication when it's needed.

The program allowed Cousins to go home earlier and it kept her there.

Reducing pressure on ERs

Community paramedics have prevented as many as 4,500 emergency room visits in the Calgary area this year alone.

"We're seeing a huge impact in terms of reducing pressure on hospitals and stress on patients," said Ryan Kozicky, program manager for the Community Paramedic Program.

But as the word gets out, the unit is being inundated with calls.

"It's unfortunate now that the demand has become so great, that we're turning patients away just because we don't have the resources to meet that growing demand," said Kozicky.

When that happens, urgent cases are referred to emergency rooms -—- the exact situation they're trying to avoid.

Patients with less urgent concerns can wait up to three days to be seen by the paramedics.

The team is hoping for a funding increase so it can expand from five community paramedic units to 10 and ultimately eliminate any wait-times.

Deborah Cousins has no doubt expanding the program is the right way to go.

"It just really needs to grow."


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