Community paramedics project saves province $5 million
Community paramedic Andrew Agrey examines Clara Bradley, 98, at Faith House in Camrose on Tuesday as Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman looks on. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
Officials say that in a little over two months an innovative community paramedics program has saved taxpayers $5 million in healthcare costs in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding.
The pilot project expanded to the riding on Feb. 12 after a successful run in Edmonton and Calgary, and already advanced care paramedics have made more than 200 calls to local seniors. Instead of sending an ambulance to take a senior from a care facility to the hospital for a standard set of tests, a community paramedic will make a house call and run them in their home.
While the cost savings are huge, the bigger impact has been in the improved level of care for the patients.
"I feel easier ... that I can be at home and still get care," said Clara Bradley, 98, a resident at Faith House in Camrose. "It's a little stressful going to the hospital, but I can take it."
Her son, Glen Bradley, says the system is a big improvement over what they had to do before if she needed to be checked out and run basic blood and diagnostic tests. If more advanced care is needed, she can still be transported to the hospital, but if all they are doing is running tests it can all be done rapidly at her residence. When his mom goes to the hospital for tests, Glen has to meet her there and they can spend hours in a bed waiting and wondering what's happening.
"It's great because everything is here," he said.
While the patient is in the ER just having tests run, they are also taking up a bed that could be used for someone in a critical situation or requires more immediate attention.
Depending on the test that are run, a home visit will last anywhere between one and three hours and the paramedic is in contact with their physician directly about treatment plans and results.
"When we come in to do the assessment, we do quite a thorough assessment, diagnostics and treatment plans that the physician comes up with," said Andrew Agrey, one of five mobile community paramedics employed by Alberta Health Services in the area. "We have a nice visit with the patient generally and anything we can do to make that patient comfortable and to keep them at home is a win."
Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley said the savings add up in each call. The big one is the cost of an acute care bed that is occupied by a senior just awaiting tests and results. They also take into account the cost of the emergency room staff and sending a community paramedic to a home in an SUV is much cheaper than a fully-loaded ambulance.
"Instead of costing this much, they're staying at home and she's still getting medical attention," said Hinkley.
This is also reducing wait times in emergency rooms, meaning there are less stresses on the resources and staff there and people are treated in a more timely fashion.
There is also a reduced amount of potential burnout for the community paramedics as compared to those running an ambulance.
"It's been a nice change, definitely a little different than frontline EMS work," said Agrey. "A little less stress and a little more end goal, we can see the end goal with the treatment plan that we come up with with the physicians."
Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman was at Faith House on Tuesday afternoon to see the program in action. She says the goal is to make this pilot project a permanent fixture. Camrose was part of the $11 million cost of the expanded pilot which also included Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Peace River, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. Camrose, Wetaskiwin and Red Deer were the first communities outside of Edmonton and Calgary to be included in the project.
"It's a good example of how we can use our healthcare workers to their full scope in a way that keeps patients cared for at home and get better results for that patient and often in a much more efficient way for the whole system," said Hoffman.