Ceduna's community paramedic program in doubt with funding due to stop next month

PROGRAM: Thelma Windlass, Ken Smith, David Jaensch, Alex Praino and Lance Peel at Ceduna's Stepping Stones Drug and Alcohol Day Centre. Picture: Luca Cetta
PROGRAM: Thelma Windlass, Ken Smith, David Jaensch, Alex Praino and Lance Peel at Ceduna's Stepping Stones Drug and Alcohol Day Centre. Picture: Luca Cetta

Funding for Ceduna's community paramedic program is set to run out at the end of the year and the Ceduna Services Collaboration Group is pushing for it to continue.

The program has been running since 2016 and received $445,000 last year for it to run through to December 2019, however its future beyond that is uncertain.

Far West Aboriginal Communities Leaders Group executive officer Alex Praino wrote to Health Minister Stephen Wade in August asking for funding to be extended but Mr Wade said it had been established as a "pilot program" for a "trial period", with funding options to be explored.

Mr Praino said other services in town had also expressed their support for the program.

The program is funded through the Primary Health Network, South Australian Ambulance Service and Country Health SA, and a total of $862,000 was allocated to operate the community paramedic program in Ceduna and Robe for 2019.

Ceduna community paramedic David Jaensch - who operates on a seven-day roster alongside Prue Hurcombe - said the program helped to close gaps in the community's healthcare system.

"We connect people to the right places in the health service, whether it is the hospital, private medical practice, the dentist - whatever their health needs, we are the connectors," he said.

"We formed a strong partnership with ADAC (Stepping Stones Drug and Alcohol Day Centre) and do health checks every morning - as a result, we have improved health literacy of a demographic that tends to avoid or have illiteracy with health, and they engage us and seek us out for minor conditions before it gets bad because they trust us.

"We support all other medical and health services, work with community nurses, palliative care team and the police."

Mr Jaensch said the community paramedic visited ADAC every day from 7.30am to 9am for health checks on those who went in, then spent time taking people to appointments and getting medication packs from the pharmacy.

Afterwards they may visit communities such as Yalata and take people to appointments in Ceduna, support the local ambulance crew, and do "what comes along" during a day.

Mr Jaensch said the community paramedics had about 240 contacts per month with people through ADAC, plus about 50 more in the community.

Mr Praino said the group had not heard anything further since receiving the letter from Mr Wade last month but recognised the importance of the program.

"We are not health specialists but know it is saving lives," he said.

"There are so many big issues in the region and the community paramedic program helps the most vulnerable people; what they do for a lot of people is imperative."

He said the help provided and the personal relationships between paramedics and patients showed the program was having a positive influence.

ADAC's drug and alcohol outreach worker Ken Smith said he did not know where the centre would be without the community paramedics.

"They do so much for the community, people rely on them, they come see you or take you to the doctor, and we admire the work they do," he said.

"If the program was lost we'd have a lot of sick people around."

An SA Ambulance spokesperson said discussions about the program were ongoing.

"We are currently in discussions with a range of health partners about how best to support the community paramedic program in Robe and Ceduna into 2020 and beyond," the spokesperson said.

"We are pleased with the results from the program - our intensive care paramedics have built strong relationships within their communities over the past four years.

"The program is a fantastic demonstration of regional health professionals working together to provide best care for their patients."