Nova Scotia

Paramedics treating patients at home eases end-of-life journey, caregiver says

Paramedic says palliative care patients used to 'just beg' her to treat them at home, and now she can.

Program helped paramedic see each patient as a human being instead having to just rush them off to hospital

The program saves patients money, because they don't have to pay an ambulance fee, and it also saves the province money because there are no hospital costs. (Robert Short/CBC)

The daughter of a cancer patient in Nova Scotia says a new program, which allows paramedics to care for palliative care patients in their homes instead of rushing them to the hospital, has helped make her father's final days a little bit easier.

The Paramedics Providing Palliative Care at Home Program is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and is currently available in both Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

Although program development and training began in 2014, the program didn't officially launch until June. Funding expires at the end of 2016.

We already face many unknowns as we go through this, and just to know that that support is available, I think, can make the journey just a little bit easier.- Lisa Martin

First experience

Lisa Martin, from Sackville, told the CBC's Information Morning she first learned about the program in July, when her father's health took a turn for the worse.

She called 911 and told the dispatcher her father was a palliative care patient, and even though he wasn't officially enrolled in the program, two paramedics came to the house.

They stayed with her father for a couple of hours.

They were "very knowledgeable, kind and supportive, to both my dad and the family," Martin said. They "made us feel quickly at ease and made a stressful situation a lot easier."

'Efficient and timely'

Martin said the paramedics assessed her father and discussed the treatment plan with a medical resident over the phone. They gave him an IV, and even stayed with him while she ran out to buy his antibiotics.

She said her father received the same treatment he would have had in hospital "but it was more efficient and timely," and it meant the family could avoid a lengthy wait in the emergency room.

Paramedic Katherine Houde said she remembers the frustration she felt caring for palliative care patients under the old model.

Patients with chronic conditions — which aren't considered urgent in the emergency room — would "just beg" to stay at home, but Houde had no choice but to bring them to the waiting room, where they'd wait in the hallways for hours.

The Paramedics Providing Palliative Care at Home program marks a shift away from the lights and sirens approach to end-of-life care. (CBC)

Eases the journey

Martin said it's a comfort to know that her father will be taken care of at home the next time an acute situation arises.

"Patients and families, we already face many unknowns as we go through this," Martin said. "And just to know that that support is available, I think, can make the journey just a little bit easier."

Houde said the program has changed her relationship with all of her patients — even outside of palliative care.

"In the past, we used to go in, correct things as fast as we could, and really look at it as a problem," she said. "Now, I think, it's made us think of every patient as a human being."

Financial savings

Patients are well-served financially, too, Houde said. They typically have to pay approximately $140 out of pocket to be transported to the hospital by ambulance, she said, whereas the care is free for patients when they are treated at home.

It's cost-effective for the province too, because they only have to pay two paramedics for a couple of hours, "versus a patient taking up a bed, doctors's fees, nurses's fees, lab fees and all of that," Houde said.

Sirens and flashing lights. That's what palliative care patients in Nova Scotia used to have to endure in their final hours. But not anymore. A program called Paramedics Providing Palliative Care at Home allows patients in Nova Scotia to avoid the ambu 6:56

With files from Information Morning