New rules mean paramedics can connect at-risk patients with shelters, social services

A new protocol will allow paramedics to take at-risk people to shelters or drop-in centres instead of hospitals when needed, says Winnipeg's mayor.

Patients who meet criteria can ask for other options, Mayor Brian Bowman says

Helen Clark of Emergency Response Services says the new protocol will help prevent unnecessary trips to emergency rooms. (CBC)

A new protocol will allow paramedics to connect at-risk people with shelters or drop-in centres instead of hospitals when needed, Winnipeg's mayor says.

Mayor Brian Bowman announced the "voluntary transport to drop-in shelters protocol" on Tuesday, created in an effort to provide homeless people with shelter when they are at risk due to weather or general well-being or safety concerns. 

"[It is] a simple way to help people get safely to drop-in shelters where they can access food, a safe and warm place to sleep, and can get connected to many different social support services," said Bowman.

Here's how it works: 

  • 911 sends emergency personnel after receiving a phone call that a homeless person is at risk.
  • If people need medical treatment and accept transportation to a hospital, they will be taken to one.
  • If they refuse to go to a hospital and meet the paramedics' criteria for refusal of treatment, they can be taken to a shelter in a vehicle provided by one of three community partners: the Downtown BIZ, Main Street Project or Salvation Army.
  • 911 staff will co-ordinate the vehicles and provide the most appropriate transportation. 
  • Paramedics stay with the person until the transportation vehicle arrives.

The new transport protocol has been tested since Jan. 24. Bowman said as of Monday, 22 people had taken the new transport.

The change closes one of the gaps identified by social service groups in helping people find safe shelter, especially during extreme weather events, Bowman said.

"[It] will add another layer of support for those in need on our streets," he said.

Bowman praised front-line workers and government groups for "working together to make this protocol change which will better utilize existing resources to better support our at-risk residents."

Rick Lees of Main Street Project speaks to media Tuesday at Winnipeg City Hall. (CBC)

The protocol is a "next step" in Main Street Project's current outreach program, said executive director Rick Lees. Main Street Project's wheelchair-accessible van, as part of the protocol's arsenal, will help at-risk people with accessibility issues be transported with dignity, he said.

There are paramedics at Main Street Project 24 hours a day, "providing exceptional care," he said.

The protocol has been implemented partly in response to the death of Windy Sinclair, said Lees. 

Sinclair had been taken to Seven Oaks General Hospital by ambulance on Christmas Day 2017 after she called 911. She had been struggling with a crystal meth addiction and had been using the drug that day. She left the hospital before being discharged.

Her body was found days later near a shed behind an apartment building in the 300 block of Furby Street.

"I'm pleased to see the agencies all get behind this, kind of set aside what we all do to put together one common protocol," said Lees.

Helen Clark of the province's Emergency Response Services said the new protocol will use existing services better and prevent unnecessary trips to emergency rooms.

"Emergency medical services personnel will ensure medical needs are addressed, but for those who are not sick or injured, this new transport practice will continue to offer important supports to shelter and community."

People who choose to be taken to a shelter or drop-in centre will also be offered outreach services, said Stefano Grande of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. There will also be follow-up to provide further support, he said.