Many seniors and other chronically ill Red Deer residents are being treated for non-emergency illnesses by paramedics in specially-equipped SUVs.
Since the new Alberta Health Services community paramedics program was expanded into Red Deer in February, it’s been preventing unnecessary local emergency room visits, said Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.
Instead of moving frail nursing home patients by ambulance to a busy ER —and sometimes getting them checked into hospital for a brief stay — their health care needs are being met where they live, “quickly and efficiently,” said Hoffman, during a visit Friday to a local nursing home.
This is easier on the patient, and also frees up the ER for people with more urgent needs, bringing down wait times, the minister added.
Treatments for urinary tract infections, water retention and various chronic ailments are being provided by community paramedic teams through the new program.
Alberta Health recently announced a $11-million expansion, which is adding 20 full-time community paramedics to the 30 already working in Calgary and Edmonton to provide specialized support to vulnerable Albertans across the province. The program is now also running in Camrose and Wetaskiwin, and will be started this spring to Grande Prairie, Peace River, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
The specially outfitted SUVs operate like non-emergency ambulances, said Ryan Kozicky, director of EMS and mobile integrated health care.
Paramedics arrive in these mobile “integrated health units,” and are able to provide intravenous therapy, electrocardiograms, various diagnoses, and blood pressure checks.
Two to four of these units responded to calls each day in Red Deer. Frail elderly people in nursing homes have been the majority of clients, treated on site, but Kozicky said younger people with chronic illnesses or developmental disabilities have also received treatment.
Allan Shurmer, a resident of Red Deer’s Points West Living continuing care facility, has twice received health treatments from a paramedic in a mobile integrated unit. The 83-year-old, who has trouble with water retention, said he’s grateful to be able to get the care he needs without going to hospital.
“I’m absolutely glad. It’s the best thing they ever thought of,” said Shurmer.