Chetwynd, Fort St. James and Hazelton are the first communities in BC to welcome the community paramedicine program being introduced by BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS).
Under the program, paramedics will provide primary care services (within their scope of practice) to increase access to basic health care services in non-urgent settings, in partnership with local health care providers. The enhanced role is not intended to replace any care provided by health professionals, like nurses, but rather, complements and supports the work that these important professionals do each day.
BCEHS has been coordinating the implementation of community paramedicine in BC with the Ministry of Health, the province's health authorities, and the Ambulance Paramedics of BC (CUPE 873).
"By phasing in community paramedicine, we are developing an integrated approach to patient care to best suit the unique needs of each community population," said Health Minister Terry Lake. "We know that health-care providers in rural and remote areas may face challenges and we value their guidance in how we can best engage local paramedics to address gaps in service."
Interior communities will be announced in June 2015, followed by Vancouver Island communities in late summer. This gradual start allows BCEHS to focus on one health authority at a time, and to develop the contacts needed in each community to ensure community paramedics will be well-integrated members of the established health-care teams.
"BC's paramedics are highly trained medical professionals, who are well suited for this new role in community health," said Bronwyn Barter, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC (CUPE 873). "With the community paramedicine program will come better patient care and new full-time career opportunities across the province."
In Phase One, BCEHS paramedic unit chiefs will help confirm the specific services required in the community, for which community paramedics, given their training, are able to provide.
It is expected that community paramedics will be delivering community health services in the initial communities in the fall of 2015. Phase Two, which will build on the "lessons learned" in Phase One, is projected to begin by January 2016.
Phase Three, which will see a continued expansion into additional communities and explore the integration of community paramedics into clinics and facilities, is scheduled for 2017.
"BCEHS is continually striving to find new and better ways to provide patient care and to strengthen its ability to respond to medical emergencies," said BCEHS Chief Operating Officer Jodi Jensen. "Enhancing the talents and skills of paramedics in a community-based setting will help keep paramedics engaged in remote communities that have low call volumes."
The Province of British Columbia and BCEHS have committed to creating at least 80 new full-time equivalent positions (FTEs) to support the implementation of community paramedicine programs over the next four years.
Today's announcement aligns with the recently released "Rural Health Services in BC: A policy framework to provide a system of quality care," which was created as a planning document to identify common concerns and policy directions, which will be joined together into a rural health strategy. This strategy will help guide the future of rural health care for British Columbians.
BCEHS governs the emergency medical services system in B.C. and provides residents, visitors and health care professionals with pre-hospital emergency and inter-facility patient transfer services. BCEHS oversees the BC Ambulance Service and the BC Patient Transfer Network and is supported by the Provincial Health Services Authority.