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Primary Paramedic Response Units: A new way to address emergency room wait times?

Primary Paramedic Response Units: A new way to address emergency room wait times?
Primary Paramedic Response Units

By: Guest Columnist - Kevin Klein

Winnipeg, February 26, 2024 - It’s the classic knee jerk response by the government to policy issues – throw money at the problem along with a mind-numbing load of lip service. But more often than not, money isn’t the solution. Sure, it can buy time for the government to claim they are addressing the matter. It can even be an excuse to do nothing whatsoever under the political cover of “studying” the problem. But in reality, what the government lacks in true subject matter expertise, it more than makes up for in floating the false perception that it is tackling the problem.

What is desperately needed is a dose of common sense in governance and a commitment to act on it.

Nowhere does this apply more so than in the healthcare sector – where staggering inefficiencies can result in dreadful outcomes and outrageous waste of public funds?

Take for example the never-ending issue of emergency wait times – but wait times are just the symptom. The real problem is the backlog for treatment. So wouldn’t common sense dictate that the best way to reduce patient backlog is to ensure non-emergent patients are not seeking treatment in hospital emergency rooms? Obtaining non-emergent care in the community would dramatically reduce emergency backlogs and improve ambulance response times as well.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS), for example, has a team dedicated to ensuring Winnipeg’s most vulnerable people receive medical support where they reside in the community. The Emergency Paramedic In the Community – or EPIC Program launched more than ten years ago in Winnipeg, has responded to nearly 9,000 incidents since 2020. The EPIC team is staffed with Advanced Care Paramedics who provide care to residents in the community, thereby decreasing repeat calls to 911 and fostering better relationships with residents.

When I ran for mayor of Winnipeg, I advocated for adding Primary Paramedic Response (PPR) teams with the highest trained paramedics in single response units that utilize the full scope of their training to determine the appropriate medical response for patients calling 911. I proposed that these teams could select the appropriate treatment destination for these patients based on sound medical criteria and level of urgency. Hospital selection could be based on closer proximity if urgency was relevant. This initial triage could also refer patients to a clinic, family doctor or even a specialist, thereby relieving the critical care system of non-emergent cases.

I can’t help but think of the tragic passing of my friend Kyri Vogiatzakis and whether a faster ambulance response time and re-direct to a closer emergency centre would have changed the outcome and possibly saved his life. Common sense dictates that it would have. Why then are we not prepared to restore some common sense if it can mean the difference between life and death?

Today it is not un-common to see ambulances and paramedics waiting with their patient at the hospital, sometimes for hours preventing them from resuming services back in the community. Giving PPR teams the power to make informed decisions will save lives and improve response times as well as health outcomes.

Efficient management of 911 responses between EPIC teams and PPR ambulance crews would dramatically improve efficiencies and free up limited resources. Allocating ambulances for critical care only would ensure they respond faster to the most urgent calls. EPIC Teams could also help prevent duplication of services – a common scenario where both ambulance and fire paramedics attend the same call.

It's time that the Manitoba government, in partnership with the City of Winnipeg, stopped giving lip service to these obvious critical care deficiencies. There is a better system – we need to get down to brass tacks, apply some common sense and actually follow through with meaningful changes that will improve outcomes.


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