Paramedic out to prevent hospital visits

A new program is seeing paramedics get out of the ambulance and into the community.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic recently graduated the first class of Saskatchewan community paramedics. One of those first graduates is Sheldon Hirschfeld, an advanced care paramedic with Parkland Ambulance. He’s already out in the community, hoping his work in preventative care can result in more people avoiding the need for an ambulance in the first place.

“The community paramedic role is proactive rather than reactive,” Hirschfeld said last week while seeing residents of Caleb Village.

“It involves helping people understand some of the disease processes they nay have, for example diabetes, or high blood pressure, or heart issues. We can help them navigate the health system and be more educated about their disease.”

Hirschfeld said through partnerships, his role could assist in home care, with health clinics, in doctors’ offices, and more.

“The sky’s the limit as to what we can do,” he said.

To demonstrate how his role works, Hirschfeld used the example of someone who has emphysema. In the early summer with dust flying around they may have problems with their emphysema. If they understand how their disease process works, the community paramedic can help them implement the plan to prevent a hospital admission.

“If we are doing regular visits with them, and we find their lungs are sounding a little worse, we can work with them,” Hirschfeld said. “We can nip it in the bud so they don’t go to the hospital at all.”

For Hirschfeld’s employers, the role opens up a range of possibilities.

“As I was learning what Sheldon’s been trained in – I mean he’s been trained in mental health issues. He’s been trained in long-term care, disease management, wound care management,” Parkland Ambulance director of public affairs Lyle Karasiuk said.

“As a paramedic, when I see you, if you’ve got a cut, I put gauze on top of it, wrap it up and send you to a hospital. But Sheldon does the stitches, he does the wound assessment, he does the chronic disease management. There are so many opportunities for us to take community paramedics and work with community partners. It’s really an endless list.”

Karasiuk stressed that the community paramedic isn’t meant to replace other medical professionals, such as nurses or doctors.

“This is not replacing one with the other,” he said. “This is a collaborative approach to building better health care systems where we need to support each other.”

Parkland Ambulance is already starting to build connections with other agencies to roll out the community paramedic fully into the community.

‘If this sounds like something you could work with, give us a call,” Karasiuk said.

“Let’s start to have that dialogue. Let’s talk about how we can take our community paramedic into your facility. Maybe there’s an opportunity that you want to do some necessary care that you don’t have access to. Maybe there are some services in your clinic that you don’t have access to. We can start to build those partnership s and build a really great team.”

For Hirschfeld, the new community paramedic position is rewarding.

“I enjoy working with people on a longer-term basis,” he said.

I love my job as a paramedic, but t’s just a flash in the pan. You see people for 20 or 30 minutes, maybe an hour tops. Then you go on to the next person. (This position) gives a little bit more of an opportunity to get to know people, understand a little bit more about them, and interact on a longer-term basis.”