Cay Hülsen stoically sits at the round table in the multi-generational housing units on Park Avenue as he actively listens to ideas from seniors in the community, nodding at each idea one by one and offering his input only when absolutely necessary.
The group is planning a community barbecue. For Hülsen, who is a paramedic, this is well within his job description and part of his community outreach. To him, these are the moments that are most integral to his job – to build relationships in Prince Rupert.
“The idea this year was to create a hub as a group so we can be stronger and grow. Our purpose is to serve the community better.” Hülsen said.
Hülsen is the city’s first community paramedic. Community paramedicine is an initiative which is still in its infant stages for the North Coast. Hülsen differs from 911 paramedics in that he only sometimes responds to emergencies if he needs to. His mandate is to “increase access to basic health care services in non-urgent settings, in patients’ homes, or in the community.”
“I did it because I believe in community. I was always involved in communities, it comes naturally to me,” he said.
Hülsen, 60, began his position in May 2018. Over the past year he has been implementing the program for Prince Rupert. His first mission: to focus on the seniors.
At events like the barbecue, Hülsen will take the time to talk to each resident to get to know their individual needs, be they social or medical, in order to promote better health.
For some residents, Hülsen identifies potential problems and makes sure he is connecting patients with doctors so nobody falls through the cracks. For others, he is trying to get them out of the doctors office by giving them blood sugar testing right in their own settings or showing them simpler techniques for using their equipment, such as inhalers.
“That is rewarding. I want to empower people and that’s what I like about this group, we are making the seniors population a little bit stronger and having choices other than going to the emergency room. They get better care at home and in a familiar group setting,” Hülsen said.
Some of the projects Hülsen hopes to tackle in Prince Rupert are to implement a respiratory program and support Northern Health’s initiative to respond to chronic diseases closer to home, such as cardiac and stroke care, cancer care, kidney care and HIV & Hepatitis C care.
Hülsen hopes to see Prince Rupert become a dementia-friendly community as the population ages by taking a page out of the book of other communities in England and Australia who provide free online courses that deal with dementia education and care training.
Hülsen is also looking out for the physical safety of residents. He hopes to make the streets safer for seniors and wants to advocate for more lights in the downtown area, a concern that has been brought to his attention by residents struggling to safely cross the street.
Hülsen’s journey to paramedicine began more than 25 years ago on Hornby Island as a first responder with their fire department where he worked together with the BC ambulance service, drawing him to a new career path.
From Hornby he commuted to Vancouver everyday working in the downtown community and the Eastside as a full time paramedic. He wanted to work in the community where he lived.
From there he came to Prince Rupert where he continued his work for 11 years before thinking about retirement.
“It’s hard work being a paramedic working from night shifts then days shifts year after year. It leaves a toll,” Hülsen said.
But right before he left the paramedic life behind, the community paramedicine initiative was launched in the North Coast in April 2016 and Hülsen took the new position.
“Now with this position, it opens up for a new scene where we get more involved in the community, and in a big way, in a meaningful way,” he said.
Hülsen said what makes the program strong is that all the community paramedics in the North Coast meet in person once or twice a year and maintain communication year round to share issues and ideas to improve senior health in their towns.
“We are helping each other out and are resources for each other. That makes the program very strong.” he said.
Hülsen lives on Dodge Cove and said the community there and commuting by boat everyday gave him a strong sense of community and what their needs are.
“If someone needs some help you go right over to their home to make sure they are okay. In bigger places these kinds of responses are lost,” he said.
For the future, Hülsen said they are planning to hire for a second position. He hopes that his counterpart can expand to focus on the needs of the homeless and the youth.
Hülsen believes community paramedicine is an efficient way of dealing with health issues, and hopes that more training for community paramedics means transporting less residents to the hospital.
Northern B.C. faces a shortage of paramedics Hülsen said, and believes that community paramedics are key to maintaining stability for a small town.
“I’m only a very small person, but if I join like-minded people, then hopefully you achieve something.”
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