Manitoba

Fire paramedic service to expand program that connects with frequent users to reduce 911 calls, ER visits

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service will soon roll out a second community paramedic unit, as part of a program to regularly visit the city's top 911 users before they call for emergency services.

Winnipeg's Emergency Paramedics in the Community program currently operates 1 vehicle for 12 hours every day

The new unit in the Emergency Paramedics in the Community program will formally launch on June 6, the city and Shared Health announced Tuesday. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service will soon roll out a second community paramedic unit, as part of a program to regularly visit the city's top 911 users before they call for emergency services.

The Emergency Paramedics in the Community program launched in 2013 with a single vehicle operating 12 hours a day, seven days a week. It's designed to cut down calls to 911 and trips to the emergency room by identifying frequent users and visiting them regularly to offer early health assessments and intervention planning.

"For us, it builds a ton of capacity … within 911 operations, and in doing that, it actually provides us better access to clients, [and] it provides those clients with better health care with a cheaper resource," said Ryan Sneath, assistant chief of paramedic operations with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.

The new unit will be formally launched on June 6, Sneath said, and will be staffed by one paramedic each day. The new unit will operate the same number of hours as the original, but its hours will likely be staggered for more coverage at peak times, he added.

Ryan Sneath, assistant chief with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said the program frees up emergency medical services while offering better care to frequent patients. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Patients are referred to the program in two ways, Sneath said.

Emergency departments or paramedics can identify frequent patients or 911 callers, he said, using a threshold of roughly six incidents in three or four months.

Otherwise, paramedics can identify at-risk people while on the job and responding to calls, he said. Factors to look for include social isolation, deterioration in condition or falls, said Sneath.

7,000 assessments since launch

Since its launch, paramedics in the program have done more than 7,000 assessments and managed more than 2,700 at-risk referrals to the program, said Dr. Rob Grierson, medical director for the fire paramedic service and chief medical officer of emergency response services for Shared Health.

That's resulted in a 56 per cent drop in 911 calls by the program's patients, and a 62 per cent drop in ambulance trips to the ER in that group.

"Those individuals are receiving care through various other means in the system, either primary care or home care services, that are better equipped to more effectively meet their needs in their home," Sneath said.

"The expansion of this will increase our capacity within that program."