Paramedics from across the country complete training to work in N.W.T. health centres
The initiative is meant to help with ongoing nursing shortages across the territory
The N.W.T. government has started contracting paramedics in an effort to boost staff numbers in health centres.
The initiative is "part of a solution" for addressing the shortage of nurses across the territory, says the program's lead.
Sean Ivens is the president and CEO of Advanced Medical Solutions, a company that is recruiting, training and deploying paramedics for the territory's Health Department.
Ivens recently spoke to CBC News during a training session at their Yellowknife headquarters, where their second cohort was in the midst of their required orientation program.
The six-day training course includes skills development, recertification and "cultural education" to ensure that paramedics are prepared and qualified to work in the territory, said Ivens, adding there's an online education component.
Jonathon Mackay, from Nova Scotia, was one of six paramedics in the training session. Mackay said he has been working as a paramedic for over 23 years, often in remote communities.
He said he was "thrown into" his last paramedic position in Papua New Guinea and was grateful for Advanced Medical Solutions's nearly week-long orientation.
"I have never been given the experience of this much pre-education and it looks like the program is going to be set up well, so I'm very excited to be in at this point," said Mackay.
Jarrett Baxter, also from Nova Scotia, said he's been working on an ambulance for the past 18 years and is looking forward to working in a clinic.
"It's always been sort of a goal to be more community-oriented as a paramedic because it's not that traditional role that we're used to," he said.
Paramedics will have 'backup and support'
Ivens said that the plan is not for paramedics to replace nurses, but to work alongside them — mainly in an emergency response role.
"While a nurse has a clinical background and focuses more on clinical emergencies, the paramedic is trained to work in an uncontrolled environment — where somebody is bleeding, not breathing, [or] requires CPR," said Ivens.
"So when you put those two skill sets together, they work very well together because now you have a complete skill set."
But in order to keep health centres open, paramedics will likely work in communities without nurses present. Ivens said that could result in reduced services, but a physician and multiple clinical managers will be available 24/7 to provide phone consults and help mitigate any problems.
"So we have backup and support in the event that it's a situation that the paramedic cannot handle on their own."
Although there are "limitations" to the model, Ivens says that paramedics are "cross trained" to work in clinical settings during the orientation program.
"When somebody comes in from a community that says my ear hurts, my stomach hurts, my throat hurts — that's not typically what you would call a paramedic for in an ambulance. So we provide them with those extra skills," he said.
"It's not kind of a cowboy environment, where a paramedic rolls in and rolls up his sleeves and goes to work. It's a very controlled environment," he responded, when asked about potential concerns people may have about paramedics filling in for nurses.
Ivens added that paramedics will be placed in "appropriate environments" that are dependent on their skill level.
According to Ivens, three paramedics from their first cohort have recently started working in health centres — with two in Hay River and one in Yellowknife. He said that they are currently working with the Health Department to schedule paramedics in Fort Providence and Inuvik.
"Within the next four weeks, we'll have 24 paramedics ready for deployment in the Northwest Territories," said Ivens.
Paramedicine 'here to stay,' says Ivens
Ivens believes that this method of delivering healthcare is "here to stay across Canada, if not the world."
He said that southern regions of Canada, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, have been using community paramedicine to help with the "health care crisis" due to staffing shortages for years.
And even though the program is still just developing in the N.W.T., Ivens says that Advanced Medical Solutions has been successfully running the initiative in Nunavut since July 2021.
"We've helped in mitigating some of the closures of community health centres throughout Nunavut."
His hope is that the program continues to expand throughout the North. "This is new to the territory, and I'm sure it will develop further," said Ivens.