Paramedic house calls launched in northern Alberta

Alberta Health is rolling out its community paramedic program in northern Alberta, as part of a provincewide expansion of medical house calls.

Audrey Merlo, 79, was one of the first patients to use the service in Grande Prairie.

A course of antibiotics two weeks ago left her feeling too nauseous to stand, let alone drive to the hospital.

​”I was to the point where I just didn’t feel like getting up, getting in the shower, getting dressed,” Merlo said.

Her family doctor arranged for a community paramedic to visit her acreage just outside city limits, where he checked her vitals and administered an IV drip.

Within hours, Merlo began to feel better. 

​”It certainly got me back on my feet without even having to go to the doctor,” she said. “It’s a great program and I would love to see it carry on.

“There’s a lot of needy people out there, like seniors, that are not well enough to go and see a doctor.”

Audrey Merlo used the community paramedics program after becoming too sick to make it to the hospital on her own. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

The service launched in Calgary six years ago. Within the first year, it prevented 700 emergency room visits.

In February, Alberta Health announced $11 million in new funding to more than double the number of community paramedics across the province.

The investment will add 20 full-time positions to existing call centres in Edmonton and Calgary, which already employ 30 people.

Another 26 jobs are opening in stages this spring in cities and towns across the province.

The first round of hiring was in Red Deer, Camrose and Wetaskiwin on Feb. 12, followed by a second round in Peace River and Grande Prairie on March 26.

More hires are planned in May for Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

John Rogers is one of four new community paramedics in Grande Prairie. He switched to the role after nearly a decade working out of ambulances in the city.

“Every call that I’ve done so far, I’ve seen the benefit of what we’re doing,” Rogers said. 

“If you can bring the treatments to (the patients), then it’s that much more comfortable for them and it saves system resources as well.”

Grande Prairie’s community paramedics are on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

We are the eyes, ears and hands of the physician.– John Rogers, Grande Prairie community paramedic

A paramedic can respond to three or four calls a day, which usually take one to three hours each.

In its first month, the team responded to more than 50 calls from within a 50-kilometre radius of city limits.

The paramedics are trained in wound treatment, sutures, diagnostics, electrocardiograms, IV treatments and blood transfusions.

Patients are referred to the service by medical professionals, who can advise and guide community paramedics by phone.

“We are the eyes, ears and hands of the physician,” Rogers said.

“I’m optimistic that this program is going to just keep growing in the future and I can see that it might eventually change the way that EMS treatment happens in Alberta.”


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