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Community program to see paramedics reduce ERs' workload

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Winnipeg will expand a community paramedic program to reduce the number of less urgent patients in city emergency rooms.

This morning, City of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced a six-month pilot project to connect frequent ER visitors with health services.

The pilot will build on a program at the Main Street project, which saw community paramedics assess and respond to potential health problems.

During the first nine months of the program, WRHA CEO Arlene Wilgosh said paramedics assessed almost 8,000 patients, including 161 who needed to go to an ER -- a significant drop from the 350-400 patients sent to an ER during the same time period in previous years.

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service acting deputy chief Christian Schmidt said some of the paramedic staff from the Main Street Project will be reallocated into the greater community for the pilot project. Schmidt said the city has identified 60 people who call 911 on a regular basis. When these individuals call 911, Schmidt said a community paramedic will be assigned to the call, along with fire and ambulance.

Officials say the project aims to reduce the number of less urgent patients who present themselves to emergency rooms and build on efforts to reduce wait times and ambulance drop-off delays.

In April 2011, the city started to charge hospitals for delays that left paramedics waiting to unload patients. Initially, the city billed $113 per hour for each time paramedics waited more than 90 minutes. The threshold then dropped to 60 minutes.

The city planned to eventually charge hospitals for delays longer than 30 minutes, but health officials said that goal is not realistic.

Winnipeg ambulances still wait more than an hour to unload patients at city emergency rooms.

Schmidt said there is no quick fix to the wait-time issue, but officials believe this is part of the solution to making ERs more efficient.

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 4:53 PM CDT: Corrects "during first five months" to "during first nine months"

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