It was more than three years ago now that the Caring Circle’s director, Colleen O’Neil first heard of the BC Community Paramedicine Pilot Program.
“I saw this as a critical opportunity for Bowen Island,” says O’Neil. “I got on the phone right away to try and talk to the person heading up the program. After repeated calls, I finally got someone who wondered why I thought our community needed a service like this. She was surprised to hear that we only had one full time equivalent with regard to a primary care doctor. And she agreed that along with our low physician coverage, our community was vulnerable given that we are a ferry-ride and 20 minute drive from the nearest hospital, have so many seniors, young families, and no medical clinic offering extended hours and regular on-call primary care services.”
The BC Emergency Health Services Community Paramedic program was conceived out of union negotiations roughly four years ago. Many rural communities have a hard time staffing paramedics because of low-call volumes, which make it hard to justify hiring people to work the job full time. The Paramedicine Program aims to stabilize the staffing of paramedics and also fill-in the healthcare gaps in rural communities. The idea is, that with some extra training, paramedics can provide basic primary care service to members of the community that complement and assist whatever medical services already exist there.
“About one-third of the community paramedics job would be working one-on-one with patients, and that includes things such as risk assessments, taking people’s vitals and helping to navigate the healthcare system,” says Anna Chayba, Training Officer, Community Paramedicine Program. “They would also spend time on wellness programs and healthcare education in the communities. They would only be used for emergency response in specific instances.”
The program began rolling out across Northern and rural communities in British Columbia in April 2016. In January, the program will launch, officially, on Bowen Island.
“Janis Treleaven and Keith Tyler will be completing their training for this program in early December,” says Chayba.
“Much of the program training is a deep dive into the various communities where the CP’s will be working and the healthcare needs of the place. As paramedic in that community would certainly have a perspective on some of those needs, but in their training they are required to look at the statistics and research to learn much more. When that orientation is complete, these individuals can begin their community engagement. The program will come into effect in January.”
Chayba adds that the shape of the program in each community is as different as the community itself.
“There is no cookie cutter for this,” she says.
Colleen O’Neil has high hopes for the program and the ways it will be able to help here on Bowen.
“I think the referral system, however it works, will be critical,” she says. “I imagine, Dr. Zandy or Schloegl, or even the doctors from Docs on the Bay will be able to call Janis and Kieth and say, ‘I have this patient coming home after surgery and they live alone, could you check on them?’ Right now, many of our healthcare providers work in solo practices, and I really hope that the CP will help to connect everyone in terms of alerting each other to those who are at risk. Really, it is just incredible that we have this program. At Caring Circle we get calls from family members worried about other family members here on Bowen who are alone and need help regularly, but I don’t necessarily have the authority to go and visit, making sure they are taking their medication, have food in the fridge and heat in the home. I look forward to having someone to call, who does.”