WATERLOO REGION — A new community paramedicine program will provide individualized support to people who regularly call 911 or go to the emergency department.
The aim is to connect them to more appropriate care, and ease the demand on Waterloo Region’s ambulances and hospitals.
“It’s about putting that person in the right pathway for health care. What do they need,” said the region’s chief of paramedic services Stephen Van Valkenburg.
“You’re building a care plan for that particular person.”
The program launched on Monday with $246,000 in annual funding from the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network. That covers one full-time, two part-time and a quarter-time staff to oversee the program.
The target is high users of ambulances and emergency departments. Seven per cent of all patients using the paramedic services generate 23 per cent of the total calls for the year, and are more likely to have less urgent or non-urgent problems.
“We have folks that call 90 times a year,” said Van Valkenburg, noting a similar trend for the emergency department.
People relying on emergency care don’t fit a single mould. They can be elderly, have complex health problems, or mental health or addiction problems.
“It’s a multitude of issues,” Van Valkenburg said.
Patients enrolled through the program, identified through research or referral, will start with a home visit that includes an overall health appraisal.
The community paramedic will then connect them to appropriate care in the community and at home, depending on their particular needs.
This one-on-one support will hopefully keep people out of the emergency department who don’t need to be there and also reduce ambulance calls.
Ambulance off-load delays at crowded emergency rooms and steadily rising call volumes are continuing issues for the region’s paramedic service, according to a performance report given to council on Tuesday.
While this group is just a small subset of patients, redirecting them to more appropriate care will reduce the strain on ambulances and hospitals, “and it saves money.”
“It starts to create capacity in the system,” Van Valkenburg said.
It’s hoped the program will expand to include specialized geriatric services, referrals to shelters or supportive housing, and remote patient monitoring.