SASKATOON – An aggressive approach is being taken to improve the lives and health of those most vulnerable in Saskatoon. On Tuesday, officials made the announcement that a new pilot project will be launched at the Lighthouse to help curb overcapacity in the region.

“This is very strategic, it’s very strategic to try and help the people who would have the least access to the services they need when they need them so this is actually about providing quality of care and safety,” said Tracy Muggli, director of mental health and addiction services with the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR).

According to MD Ambulance, paramedics were called to the site over 400 times last year, six times just last week.

“For us to cut down on the number of responses here, to cut down on the number of patients visiting the ER is just tremendous and we’ll see a huge value in it down the road,” explained Troy Davies with MD Ambulance.

“Those people, who are chronically homeless, use those services often and they don’t always use them in the way they were intended,” added DeeAnn Mercier from the Lighthouse.

Now a six-month pilot project is being launched to reduce those visits by 50 per cent at a cost of over half-a-million dollars.

“We’re feeling pretty confident that the investments will pay for themselves with the savings that we’re already spending in between ambulance rides, emergency departments’ visits and inpatient visits that are unnecessary,” said Muggli.

The partnership between the Lighthouse, MD Ambulance and SHR is just one of the initiatives to come out of the region’s 14-day challenge to eliminate overcapacity.

“By adding these resources here we’ll be able to improve health all the way along and hopefully stop those emergency room visits,” said Mercier.

As part of the pilot, Lighthouse clients will soon have access to a care aide, addiction counsellors and a nurse practitioner on site. Also, a paramedic will be available 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

While the details are still being ironed out, it will likely be a rotation of four paramedics who can become familiar with the residents and their medical needs, stationed on site when call volumes typically spike.

“We want to make sure we have the right people, for the right job, doing the right kinds of things,” said Davies.

More beds will be dedicated to clients with mental health and complex needs at the Lighthouse. Its stabilization unit used to provide emergency shelter to clients under the influence will now support those in need 24 hours a day, which is up from 16.

“So that we’re able to talk to them during the day, connect them resources and help them make change in their life,” said Mercier.

The community-based organization will also expand its mobile outreach from six to 16 hours a day. The service allows a team of two to provide transportation for the homeless and those struggling.

According to health region officials, the pilot project will be up and running in the next couple of weeks once appropriate staff are in place.

Here is the cost breakdown provided by SHR:

  • Eight complex needs beds: $100,000
  • Lighthouse staffing to support outreach van and stabilization unit as well as on site paramedic: $335,000
  • SHR staff costs for nurse practitioner, addictions counsellor: $100,000