Provincial funding is going towards faster ambulance response times. - Black Press file photo

Provincial funding is going towards faster ambulance response times. - Black Press file photo

Health care funding to benefit Okanagan

Targeted investment to create faster ambulance response times and reduce ER patient backlog

Some of the additional $91.4 million the province has committed for emergency health service funding over the next three years will benefit the Okanagan Thompson region.

“Although we haven’t confirmed exactly where that funding will go yet on regional basis, the Kelowna and Kamloops areas and the surrounding areas around those communities should see a positive impact from this,” said Linda Lupini, executive vice-president of B.C. Emergency Health Services.

This targeted investment is meant to create faster ambulance response times and reduce patient backlog in hospital emergency departments, and support expanded care from paramedics and dispatchers.

As well, a further $4 million will be made available immediately to purchase new equipment, including carbon monoxide monitors, stretchers, safety kits and visibility gear.

More stable paramedic staffing in rural areas will also be supported by a newly negotiated universal hourly wage effective April 7, 2017, which will allow part-time paramedics to become permanent part-time employees, giving them a set shift schedule as opposed to being on-call that will allow them to supplement their income with other jobs.

“This is really a significant, transformational moment for our emergency services,” said Lupini. “We plan on a six per cent increase in calls annually but our growth rate last year was 6.8. Clearly there is a constant trajectory for emergency service call demands and we need to find new ways to address that.”

So beyond equipment upgrades and the hiring of 60 paramedics and 20 emergency response dispatchers, Lupini said this initiative is also about innovative improvements to emergency health service.

Right now, she says every ambulance call requires the paramedics to transfer the patient to a hospital emergency ward, which leads to down time for admitting the patient and can clog up already overburdened emergency wards.

“It’s important to understand the answer to meeting the needs of our growing and aging population is more than just adding more paramedics, dispatchers and ambulances,” Lupini said.

The innovation aspect will initiate a model found to be successful for efficiency of delivering health emergency services done in Ontario and Nova Scotia, called the community paramedicine program.

“We have been keeping an eye on this program and how it has worked for some time now,” Lupini said, noting the statistics have reflected positively on dealing with elderly and chronic health cases in a proactive way at home or secondary health care option rather than shuttling everyone through a hospital.

Under this program, paramedics are able to, with the at-the-scene contact support of an emergency physician.

“If a person has a mental health issue they should be not coming to the emergency ward at a hospital, but rather than a facility that can offer the services they require,” Lupini said.

Another extension of this program would see paramedics able to do follow-up house calls to assess a patient’s progress.

Looking down the road, Lupini said technology will allow emergency physicians to have a visual as well as verbal connection to the paramedic and patient.

“It’s still in the planning stages but while many emergency physicians are very comfortable communicating with paramedics on the phone, the best option is when they have eyes on the patient. They need to see it ideally…and that is going to come with technology.”