Paramedic home visits key to Cape Breton hospital closures plan

An important element of the plan to replace two Cape Breton hospitals with collaborative care centres and long-term care facilities is a community-based paramedic program for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Chronic illness treatment, earlier hospital discharge some of the hoped-for benefits

A community-based paramedic program is expected to be operational within six months in Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (CBC)

One of the key elements in the plan to replace two Cape Breton hospitals with collaborative and long-term care centres will be creating a team of paramedics that make house calls — but not for emergencies. 

The province says the community-based paramedic program will reduce the number of people going to the emergency room for something other than urgent care.

It's a move that's meant to dovetail with Nova Scotia's decision to close Northside General and New Waterford Consolidated hospitals while replacing them with facilities that won't include emergency rooms. 

Premier Stephen McNeil had to shout over a crowd on Monday as he rolled out changes to Cape Breton hospitals. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

​The paramedic program will take referrals from hospitals, physicians, nurse practitioners and from other paramedics, said Jeff Fraser, the director of provincial operations for emergency health services. 

Fraser said that paramedics will also check in on patients who have recently been discharged from hospital, with the hope that people can return home a little earlier and free up beds.

"A big element of this program is in partnership with chronic disease management," Fraser said. "For people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes, this allows paramedics to be proactively involved before people have to go to the emergency department."

And paramedics in the home-care program won't be pulled out to cover emergencies, Fraser said.

"This'll be a dedicated paramedic, outside of our deployment plan, so they won't be wrapped up in the emergency calls," he said. "So many of our patients that we encounter don't necessarily need to go to the hospital, so having options for them will provide an enhancement to their experience."

Mixed reaction to hospital closures

The program is scheduled to start within six months at an estimated cost of $900,000 a year, according to the province.

The news of the pending hospital closures received a mixed reaction Monday, with a crowd booing the premier as he made the announcement.

The exact timeline for those closures has not yet been revealed. Planning for the project is expected to take between nine months and a year.

Several physicians said the construction of new facilities could help recruit doctors, while other health-care practitioners, including the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said Monday that they were disappointed at the lack of public consultation about such a major change to health-care delivery. 

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