In 2016, Greater Sudbury started a pilot project where paramedics could direct patients with non-urgent mental health or substance withdrawal needs to two alternate locations.
Prior to November 1, paramedics across Ontario were required to take patients to a hospital emergency department. With a recent change in Ontario regulations, the Sudbury pilot project is now a permanent program.
Sudbury was a pilot because the two alternate locations belonged to Health Sciences North.
Melissa Roney, the deputy chief of paramedic services for the City of Greater Sudbury, is calling the program “game changing” for patients.
“For example, for a crisis intervention…a patient would call 9-1-1 because they felt depressed or feeling thoughts of suicide,” Roney said. “They call that suicidal ideation but they don’t really have a clear plan and has not made an effort to harm themselves.”
“This patient is of lower acuity and perhaps they just called 9-1-1 because they didn’t want to be alone or they’re fearful to be alone.”
Paramedics would arrive on scene, Roney said, and assess the patient as they normally would.
“And at that point in time if they deem the [patients] to be medically stable they’d be able to transport them to this alternate site, where they still will get help or treatment of some kind.”
The alternate sites are the withdrawal management clinic on Pine Street, and the mental health and addiction centre at 127 Cedar Street. The treatment they offer includes more specific help, and likely quicker than they would receive in the emergency department.
The systemic change has been noticeable for paramedics as well as patients, Roney said.
“What we do know is it’s lessened the stress on the 911 system, these patients needs are being met sooner,” she said.
“And we’ve heard responses from staff that it’s very gratifying that they see that their patients’ needs are being met in a more timely fashion.”