01/21/2014 10:54 EST | Updated 03/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Matthews says Ontario will put $6 million into expanding paramedic visit program

TORONTO - Ontario's health minister says the government will spend $6 million to expand the services of paramedics across the province.

Deb Matthews says the community paramedicine programs will improve access to home care and support services for seniors and others with chronic conditions.

Paramedics would visit seniors who are known to call emergency services frequently and offer help that Matthews says will prevent unnecessary ER visits and premature admission to long-term care.

She says while paramedics are known for responding to emergency situations like car crashes, they also have training and skills that could be useful in a home-care setting.

Such help might include paramedics ensuring medications are taken properly, educating seniors about chronic disease management and referring people to other services.

Matthews says such early intervention in Toronto has led to a 50 per cent reduction in 911 calls from those getting the service and a 65 per cent reduction in trips to emergency rooms.

"It's all about providing the right care at the right time and in the right place," Matthews said, adding people often need help but might not need to go to the hospital.

"We want this happening in more places across the province," said Matthews. "We want to see a better integration of paramedic care and the health care system."

The government says there are currently about 13 community paramedicine programs in the province and it will add 10 more municipalities and EMS providers this year.

It says the paramedics will work with teams of health professionals to co-ordinate care for seniors and patients with chronic conditions, allowing them to live independently.

"There is no question that by leveraging the health care training and skills of Ontario paramedics through community paramedicine programs, we are able to improve health care services for our patients, their families and the community," said Norm Gale, president of the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs.