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Meet our community paramedic - A Q&A with Jon Heathcote

04-Feb-2016

The Region’s Primary Health care Response Team (PHCRT) was created to fill a gap in services, offering in-community care to prevent ER visits where they can.

Jon Heathcote and Lori Robertson
Jon Heathcote stands with one of his partners, Lori Robertson, a RN with the Primary Health Care Response Team. Photo credit: Miriam Johnson

Two programs fall under the PHCRT, Connecting to Care and Seniors Home Visit. Both programs have multi-disciplinary teams that rely partly on the expertise of community paramedics.

Jon Heathcote is one of these paramedics and is part of the Connecting to Care team. In the following Q&A, he describes his job and why he does it.

What is a community paramedic?
It’s a paramedic operating in a non-traditional role. Rather than responding to emergency calls, we respond to non-emergent calls for individuals who are frail or bed-ridden.

Like what?
COPD exacerbations are common, so are diabetic problems. A lot of time we do wellness checks with people who have brittle health. With chronic disease, sometimes the symptoms are subtle. When we do wellness checks, we can spot these early symptoms and respond to them quickly in the patient’s home.

How do you get the calls?
There are self-referrals, families or individuals who may need our support, that call us. Mostly we get referrals from other agencies, like the hospital, home care or community partners.

What separates what you do from homecare services?
We offer community support when others aren’t available. When a doctor asks, “Do I admit this person or discharge them home?” concerned maybe that there is no one to check on them tomorrow, we can step in to be the liaison between the physician and the patient.

Doctors may be more comfortable discharging a patient to home knowing we can monitor their condition. Homecare can also call us. If they have a patient that may not be doing as well as they would hope, they can call us and we can provide treatment like IV fluids or medication to help the patient breathe, all within their home.

What do you guys drive?
We don’t drive ambulances. We actually drive personal vehicles to houses, and the Primary Health Care response team has a van we can use to transport people if needed. Our paramedics also work closely with a nurse practitioner. Perhaps the paramedic would go out to asses a patient and they may find certain things the paramedic can’t treat at home, like the patient may need a prescription. We can call the nurse practitioner, suggest treatment and the NP will complete it.

It’s a totally different way of doing things. For those that are vulnerable and home bound it makes a difference between what could be catastrophic health consequences and wellness.

What drew you to this position?
I started in 2001 on ambulance in Regina. I moved in 2011 in detox to work as a paramedic there. In 2015 I took on this job because I could tell this is different, vastly different than any health care being provided currently. That’s what ignited the passion in me to move to the next chapter of my career.

What is different about this care?
A few things. Community paramedics work in a couple of different areas. My team, the Connecting to Care team, works with very complex patients who are in the hospital more often than they want to be. I work side to side with social workers and a nurse responding as a multi-disciplinary team, and we can assess more holistically as a team than we can as individuals.

On the other side, the Seniors House Call team is providing care differently, offering seniors with complex needs immediate access to health care services, for non-emergent needs. The seniormay have sicknesses building up and they say ‘I don’t know what to do.’

What’s the benefit to the multi-disciplinary team?
The multi-disciplinary approach is essential to complex cases. Without it you are missing the big picture. You can’t make holistic decisions, or provide holistic care with just one set of eyes, so it’s so beneficial to have this multidisciplinary team.

What have you learned through this experience?
Health care systems are difficult to navigate, especially for people who have multiple readmissions into hospital. Often why they are going in isn’t as apparent as what meets the eye. It’s that ongoing day to day support that allows us to learn about the patient’s care and can help lead to better outcomes.

Another thing I’ve learned, there were a lot of people I would see on a routine basis. They would present again and again and again. I didn’t really have the opportunity to follow them home. This experience has really given me insight, it’s really opened my mind to the complexities these people’s lives, and why they are reappearing in the health care system. I understand a bit better and can put myself into their shoes. It’s breathed new life into my career. It’s a game changer. It’s the paradigm shift that patient care needs.

What’s your hope for the future?
The people that we are working with now represent a large number of people that need help, so I’m hoping that our teams expand to be able to provide more services to individuals. I’m hoping that in the future, that people don’t look at emergency as the hub for the health care system and that people start recognizing primary health care as the hub. That when they think of health care, they think of us. It’s so much more convenient for the patient.