The B.C. government is expanding its community paramedic program from six to 73 communities, to stabilize their employment in rural areas by extending their hours and their duties.
Those duties will include visits to nursing homes and private homes, replacing on-call rural paramedic positions with full-time or half-time jobs in places that may see only one or two emergency calls in a week.
Health Minister Terry Lake said Wednesday there are already jobs posted for communities in the Northern Health region, after a successful pilot project in six communities. Recruiting will begin in the Interior Health region in early 2017 and in the Vancouver Island and Vancouver Coastal regions by spring 2017.
"While you're not on call-outs, you can go into a nursing home and talk with patients," Lake said of the new paramedic roles. "You may be doing CPR training, you may be doing chronic disease management in people's homes."
Experience in other provinces has shown that community paramedics can reduce emergency room visits and keep chronic patients in their homes longer, Lake said.
Bronwyn Barter, president of CUPE local 873 representing 3,900 ambulance paramedics, said the union and local politicians have been advocating for the approach since 2013. It allows paramedics to make a living in smaller communities.
Rhiannon Davis works as a paramedic in Tofino, one of the six pilot communities. She said the new role allows her to develop relationships with people in the area and understand their needs, preventing rather than waiting for emergencies.
Pilot programs are underway in Tofino, Ucluelet, Port Hardy and Cortes Island in the Island Health region, Fort St. James, Hazelton and Chetwynd in Northern Health and Creston and Princeton in the Interior Health region.
Communities to receive the service over the next year:
• Island Health region: Alert Bay, Cortes Island, Denman Island (including Hornby Island), Gabriola Island, Galiano Island, Gold River, Mayne Island, Pender Island, Port Alice, Port Hardy, Port Renfrew, Port McNeil, Quadra Island, Sayward, Sointula, Tahsis, Tofino, Ucluelet, Zeballos
• Northern Health region: Atlin, Chetwynd, Dease Lake, Fraser Lake, Fort St. James, Granisle, Haida Gwaii, Hazelton, Houston, Hudson Hope, MacKenzie, McBride, Kitwanga, Southside, Stewart, Tumbler Ridge, Valemount, Wells
• Interior Health region: Alexis Creek, Anahim Lake, Blue River, Clearwater, Clinton, Creston, Edgewood, Elkford, Field, Fruitvale, Gold Bridge, Golden, Greenwood, Kaslo. Keremeos. Lillooet, Logan Lake, Lumby, Lytton, Midway, Nakusp, New Denver, Princeton, Revelstoke, Riondel, Rossland, Salmo, Seton Portage, Sicamous, Sparwood, Winlaw
• Vancouver Coastal region: Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Bowen Island, Madiera Park, Texada Island