Filling the gap: Mental health and psychosocial paramedicine programming in Ontario, Canada

Polly Christine Ford-Jones, Tamara Daly
Health & Social Care in the Community 2020 October 9
Paramedics respond to acute medical and trauma emergencies in the community and transport patients to emergency departments (ED). In some cases, paramedics are not only attending calls for mental health and psychosocial care but are also connecting individuals with more appropriate services to address their needs. This study qualitatively explores to what extent there are promising practices to be learned from paramedic services that are connecting patients to mental health and psychosocial programming. The study is organised as follows. In terms of the methods, we conducted a critical ethnographic case study of mental health and psychosocial care within paramedic services in Ontario, Canada. Interviews were conducted with frontline paramedics (n = 31), paramedic services management (n = 5), educators at paramedic college programmes (n = 5) and Base Hospital physicians/directors (n = 5). Work observations were also performed in three paramedic services, with multiple crews across different shifts (n ~90 hr). The study findings outline three promising practices: diversion programmes that transfer patients to a destination other than the ED; crisis response teams that attend calls identified as involving mental health and community paramedicine programmes including referral programmes. We outline the social, political and economic conditions in which these programmes were established and are provided. We also describe the conditions required to enable connecting patients to non-ED supports. The benefits of implementing specific programming for mental health-related calls within paramedic services are discussed, as well as the importance of reaching beyond the prehospital and mental healthcare system to comprehensively and preventatively address mental health needs. Tensions are explored related to running programmatic interventions for mental health by paramedic services. We conclude by noting some public policy-level challenges including the need to focus more broadly on prevention and address the social determinants of health to aid the de-escalation of distress.

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