Healthy Living in the North

Community paramedics partner with Northern Health communities to increase access to care

Community paramedics are changing patient care in some communities in Northern Health. They’re helping increase access to basic health care services in non-urgent settings, in patients’ homes, or in the community. Throughout Northern Health, 26 communities have community paramedics helping patients.

Patients can see a community paramedic if they’re referred to them by their doctor or health care team, or when they’re discharged from the hospital.

Community paramedics are employed by BC Emergency Health Services, but they work very closely with the teams of health care professionals in the community.

In Fort St. James, the “biggest positive is she [the community paramedic] works really well and has a positive relationship with the First Nations bands. She’s a great liaison for information and understanding their culture,” says Cathy York, team lead for Fort St. James.

The health care team and the community paramedic in Fort St. James are encouraged to share information and they all have a great working relationship. The community paramedic does a lot with the First Nations bands on naloxone training for overdose prevention, and also educates people on diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease. She’s also starting to work with local schools to do naloxone training.

Fraser Lake saw benefits when the first community paramedic started. At the time, they were short on nurses, so it was difficult for them to have eyes on some of the people they were concerned about in the community.

“We’re so thrilled to have the program start here, and the paramedics are such an asset to the team,” says Lora Lee Pacheco, team lead for Fraser Lake.

The community paramedic attends team meetings (called “huddles”) in Fraser Lake, which has helped close loops and encourage open communication. If there’s a concern with a patient, the community paramedic will bring it up to the team and sometimes suggest that the physician pay a home visit. They’re proactive in their care and address people’s health concerns early on.

“For example, a man used to come in every second week to the doctor’s office and was going to the hospital once a month. Now, because of the home visits of the community paramedic, he hasn’t been in the hospital since July,” says Lora Lee. “It just goes to show how important it is to check in on people and how far this program goes to prevent hospital admissions.”

Fraser Lake’s community paramedic has also taken over naloxone and CPR training in the community itself, as well as in surrounding First Nations communities. To save time, she’s also spending 1-2 hours a week at the Autumn Services Centre to follow up with people she would normally do a home visit with.

In Burns Lake, the community paramedic started only a few months ago. Since then, the team has found that he’s able to catch concerns with patients earlier on than if they waited to see their doctor. To help prevent crises, he’ll bring patients with any concerns directly to the health care team – another great example of how community paramedics are partnering with Northern Health and the local community health care teams to provide better patient care.

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.


Coming together on the shores of Babine Lake

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.

This story was originally published in Healthier You magazine.

Group of people in community hall

“Our luncheons became a huge social thing. Granisle has a population of 300 and we had upwards of 75 people attending our lunch events!”

Across Canada, research has shown that over 90% of older adults live independently in the community and wish to remain there. In smaller northern communities, however, supporting older residents to age in place can be a challenge.

With the help of IMAGINE Community Grants in 2014 and 2015, the Village of Granisle, a beautiful community of 300 people on the shores of Babine Lake, has responded to this challenge!

Granisle was named an Age-Friendly Community in 2014 and ever since, “for every project we do, our first thought is: how can this be inclusive and accessible,” said Lisa Rees, office assistant with the Village of Granisle. “Our IMAGINE-funded projects flow out of this designation.”

So, what did they do?

“We’ve got two projects under the same healthy living umbrella,” said Rees. “The first of those projects is a monthly healthy eating luncheon for seniors; the second, an exercise program for seniors.”

Don’t be fooled by the “for seniors” label, though, because these projects don’t turn anybody away! “Our luncheons became a huge social thing,” said Rees. “Granisle has a population of 300 and we had upwards of 75 people attending our lunch events!” The project promotes health not just through healthy eating, but also through social connections!

People walking on path

The community luncheons were about more than just healthy eating! Some events included walks, information sessions, and routine tests from nurses.

With an IMAGINE grant paying for the healthy food, the luncheons were designed with accessibility, learning, fun, and community in mind:

  • Attendees got a free, hot meal. Extra food was delivered to vulnerable local residents unable to leave their homes.
  • Different groups hosted the luncheons in different locations. The local Lions Club, local Council, Seniors Association, and local school all hosted luncheons. The event at the school was held together with an open house, showing that the school could be a community gathering space.
  • Before a summer park luncheon, attendees were invited to join a walk along a local trail and rubberized path.
  • Local health nurses joined the luncheons and offered participants health information and the chance to complete some routine health tests.
  • Along with their meals, attendees got to see nutrition tips from registered dietitians on their tables.

“It was more than just healthy eating,” said Rees. “People would sit and linger over coffee, we had local students helping with the cooking when the school hosted a luncheon, and programs like Better At Home did presentations.”

The second Granisle project tackles another important risk factor: sedentary behaviour.

“We want to help community members in Granisle to stay active,” said Emily Kaehn, economic development/administrative coordinator with the Village of Granisle. “With our new IMAGINE funds, we’re buying exercise gear – walking poles, ice grippers, snowshoes, yoga equipment, exercise bands, and more – to stock a local equipment library. Preventing injury and keeping older adults active is key to aging in place.”

Aerial photo of Granisle

“Come out to Granisle! It’s well worth a stop – it’s a beautiful place to visit and to be!”

Looking ahead, the Village of Granisle is looking for funding to continue the monthly luncheons and is hoping to expand the exercise gear program into broader recreation programming. “Partnerships are key,” said Kaehn. “The clinic and women’s group are involved in our exercise program and there are many clubs and groups involved in the luncheons. In a small community, it takes a lot of hands to get things to fruition and the village has really come together around health and aging.”

When probed for her last thoughts about the community and its healthy living projects, Lisa Rees encouraged everyone to check it out for themselves: “Come out to Granisle! It’s well worth a stop – it’s a beautiful place to visit and to be!”

Learn along with residents of Granisle! Here are just a couple of the healthy eating tips from their monthly community luncheons:

  • What small change can you make today? Consider water instead of pop to drink, or turkey instead of beef in your chili.
  • Develop your Sodium Sense. Flavour foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. An herb like thyme is tasty with chicken, veal, salads, and vegetables!

Three grant writing tips from Emily Kaehn (Village of Granisle):

  1. “The IMAGINE grant process was very straightforward. Program staff were very supportive. If you are thinking of applying and have an idea, call them first!”
  2. “Lots of municipalities have grant writers. They are a great resource. Start your application process there.”
  3. “Forward grant opportunities far and wide. Everyone has the community’s best interest at heart and sharing information ultimately helps everyone out.”
Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)