Paramedics hone in on 911 'hotspot' buildings to help isolated residents
One resident had severe asthma, another suffered from mental health challenges, a third was dealing with high blood pressure.
But they all had something in common: They live in a high-rise apartment building and when they needed medical care, whether it was an emergency or not, they dialled 911.
It's not an uncommon occurrence — with more than 400,000 emergency calls each year, the Toronto Central Ambulance Communications Centre responds to a lot of home calls — and many are not medically critical.
It's not the best use of paramedics' time or resources.
"[In] one of the five buildings, there were more than 200 calls [in one year]," paramedic Jessie Lee told White Coat, Black Art host Dr. Brian Goldman.
Lee's data pinpointed several buildings that were "hotspots" for 911 calls. Armed with that information, Toronto paramedics took action, setting up clinics in five buildings operated by Toronto Community Housing, in co-operation with Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).
For the past six months, Roffey and other paramedics have set up regular clinics in some of the buildings that had a high volume of calls, in the hope that a dose of prevention could improve residents' health and reduce the number of non-emergency 911 calls being made.
Many of the residents who live in the buildings are elderly, often socially isolated with a number of health issues.
Knocking on doors
The clinic is set up on the 16th floor of the building's common room, and operates for about four hours once a week. In addition to offering a space for patients to get a blood-pressure check, ask about aches, pains and shortness of breath, or get advice, paramedics knock on the doors of frequent callers.
"You get to see people when they're not in crisis," said Erin Stankevicius, a paramedic who makes weekly visits to Tuxedo Court.
Sara Ponnampalam has been coming to the clinic each week. She has high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid issues and back problems. She said she's called 911 in the past. Now her regular visits to the clinic help her manage her health.
"The last two weeks I [went] to a diabetes class. We are getting knowledge," she said.
"A lot of them are proud, too. They don't want to tell people they can't afford food," she said.
From Stankevicius' view, the program is working. She cites the case of one resident who has mental health challenges, who would call at least once a week.
Now he's calling infrequently and visits the clinic in his building.
"He says that he's been doing a lot better … I think, just him getting to know us — that familiar face — is making it easier to come to clinic, too," she said.
"Maybe it's helping with his need or want to go and call 911 as a primary resource."
'Something to look forward to'
The social aspect of the program is "huge," Stankevicius said. Rather than sitting alone in apartments, the residents have a place to meet up.
"I think, (they are) sitting at home alone, lonely, not having anything to do. This gives them something to look forward to," she said.
While the team requires a full year of data to determine whether the program is a success or not, Roffey is already seeing the benefits.
"We did identify one client who had severe asthma. She called EMS 19 times in a six-month period," Roffey said.
She was identified by the frequent caller program and got connected with additional community-based services that she didn't know were available to her.
After that, "she only had four EMS calls post the home visit."
That anecdotal success is supported by research.
Her research indicates that the program results in a 25-percent drop in 911 calls. Residents who attend the paramedic- run clinic change their lifestyle over time which means they reduce their risks of chronic diseases like diabetes leading to better health outcomes.
Unexpectedly, the clinics "have been measured to increase significantly the quality of life of the individuals living in the building," said Dr. Agarwal.
To hear the full story, click 'Listen' at the top of this page, or download our podcast.