Clinic paramedic Rick Cartier has almost experienced it all during his nearly three decades in emergency medical services (EMS).
Cartier is based out of Rainbow Lake, Alberta, located about a day’s drive northwest of Edmonton, near the British Columbia border. He is one of two clinic paramedics servicing the northern community.
Unlike most paramedics who work out of an ambulance, Cartier works in the Rainbow Lake Health Centre. There, patients generally come to him rather than the other way around. He is supported in the health centre by a registered nurse and consults with physicians in High Level when necessary.
I have done everything from deliver a baby by myself to full-on cardiac care by myself.
Cartier said every day is a little different at the clinic.
“We can run the gamut from an emergency to clinical to lab work,” Cartier explained. “I have done everything from deliver a baby by myself to full-on cardiac care by myself. This clinic opens up situations where not only can I utilize my paramedic skills, but I am also able to expand on them through protocols and consultations.”
Cartier has worked in the small, close-knit oilfield community since 2011.
“It has been good for me,” he said. “You get to know your patients fairly well. You are with them during the sad times, so it is really rewarding when you see a patient going through some positive changes.”
Steve Rideout, AHS site manager for High Level, Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement, and Rainbow Lake, said that clinic paramedics play a key role at the health centre.
“They are the main providers at that site, so they work Monday to Friday,” Rideout explains. “They also do on-call because of the remoteness of that site. They liaise with the physicians in High Level. They will also see clients, [take] appointments, and assist the doctors with their clinics.”
Cartier has spent 18 years in the north, including his work with a paramedic flight program based out of High Level.
“[For] my whole paramedic career, I have worked in rural Alberta,” said Cartier.
“I was working for myself and decided to give that up and come back north and work for Alberta Health Services [AHS]. Around 2010, we started looking at an EMS integration project where we started integrating paramedics and EMS staff within the [emergency rooms] of the AHS North Zone. That eventually rolled into a pilot project where paramedics were working during staff shortages in Rainbow Lake, which then rolled into a full-time position.”
I think in certain situations, you get faster access through rural health care than [you’d get] through the bigger centres.
Cartier said there are some misconceptions about rural health care.
“A lot of people think that rural health is less than what they would get in the bigger centres,” he explained. “In actuality, I think in certain situations, you get faster access through rural health care than [you’d get] through the bigger centres. It is more of a personal approach, and you get to know your patients very well, so you advocate that much stronger for them.”
He acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges that rural communities face is access to health care.
“We have to take care of a lot of things here that would be traditionally transferred to another hospital or clinic,” say Cartier. “Unfortunately, sometimes people do have to travel away for things such as diagnostics, CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], or MRIs [magnetic resonance imaging].”
With the remoteness of a community like Rainbow Lake, clinic paramedics need to have an advanced skill set, said Rideout.
“Being out there, anything could come to the door,” he said. “Rainbow Lake is almost an hour and a half away from the major centre [High Level]. At [the local] facility, you definitely need somebody with Rick’s background, experience, knowledge, training, organization, and critical thinking skills — everything that he brings to the table.”
Rideout notes that patients are generally stabilized as much as possible in Rainbow Lake and transferred by ground or air ambulance to High Level or other medical facilities when necessary.
“Rick is exactly the type of person you need in an area like Rainbow Lake.”
– Jordan Maskell