Main Street Project gets more paramedics

Plan aims to increase patient safety, decrease dependence on Emergency

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winnipeg's Main Street Project will soon have paramedics on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week as part of a plan to increase patient safety and decrease dependence on Emergency departments and ambulances.

The initiative, which takes effect in April, builds on the success of a pilot project that was launched in January, 2009, said Helen Clark, Emergency Medical Services and Police Liaison for the Winnipeg Health Region.

Clients at the Main Street Project often have health issues that need attention. In many cases, they are taken to hospital Emergency departments via ambulance.

Under the pilot project, those being brought in to the shelter under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act were assessed by paramedics to determine their health status and whether they could be treated on site or needed to go to hospital. Paramedics also provided primary care services, such as wound care or suture removal, at the facility and connected clients with other health care or community-based resources.

"The pilot project was very successful," said Clark. "Because paramedics were able to provide health-care services on-site, the number of ambulance calls when they were on duty were significantly reduced compared to when they were off duty."

In 2009, for example, there were 569 calls for ambulance service to the Main Street Project, with 536 of those occurring when paramedics were off duty and only 33 when they were on duty.

"We believe having a paramedic present 24/7 will not only enhance safety and improve care for people at Main Street Project but it will decrease the number of transfers to Emergency departments to only those that are absolutely necessary," Clark said.

The new initiative, the first of its kind in Canada, will result in the hiring of about six paramedics so that one will be on duty at all times. They will work under two medical directors: the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services Medical Director and a Winnipeg Health Region primary care physician. The annual operating cost is slightly more than $600,000.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald praised the move, calling it a common sense solution to an important issue. "Making sure we enhance health services for individuals at Main Street Project using skilled paramedics, while also optimizing the use of ambulances and redirecting appropriate cases away from our Emergency departments, results in better patient care for the entire community and more appropriate use of our resources."

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services Chief Jim Brennan emphasized this means ambulances that would have been tied up on calls to Main Street Project will now be available to handle other calls in the community.

"The pilot project has provided an excellent opportunity to shift the traditional EMS focus from the transportation of patients to hospital emergency departments to providing on-site care and the ability to connect clients with appropriate community health services," said Brennan.

Main Street Project welcomed the increase in paramedic service at the facility as an enhancement brought about from the initial pilot project.

"We are very pleased that the success of the pilot project resulted in having paramedics at our facility 24/7, especially knowing this will improve our clients' safety and access to other health services as needed," said Terry Sakiyama, Vice Chair, Board of Directors for Main Street Project.

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