News : Non-emergency Calls Taxing First Responders Statewide
Lancaster County, PA, USA July 20, 2015 -- Dispatchers in Lancaster County take some pretty interesting calls for help.
"A mother who couldn’t control her 5-year-old and who wanted a police officer to come out. We’ve had calls from people who have sunburn, and from people who don’t know how to turn the thermostat down and want someone to come out and help them," said Mike Weaver, director of communications for Lancaster 911.
Weaver said his center has separate non-emergency lines set up for these types of calls. "What’s an emergency? Having a medical emergency, a heart attack, a car crash, your house is on fire, burglars are trying to break in, that’s an emergency," he said.
But EMS workers can’t refuse a call. Chief Michael Fitzgibbons with Susquehanna Valley EMS said his crews are often dispatched to these non-emergency calls. He said the most common is people who need a ride. There are more and more coming in and it’s taxing first responders.
"People just can’t afford healthcare so they’re using the 911 system as their family physician, or their support staff, because they don’t have any family to come pick them up," said Fitzgibbons.
Fitzgibbons believes changes to the healthcare system may be to blame.
"Any doctors office you go to now they ask you to pay up front, or with your insurance card. For us, we don’t have that ability to do that. So anybody that calls, gets to ride into the hospital, and then the hospital treats them from there. Those people don’t have the money so they just bypass the system," he said. "They get a bill from us but some people just don’t pay it. The [healthcare] system is basically is just cut back to the bare minimum and now there’s people picking up the pieces and EMS is one of those people."
A statewide team made up of dispatchers and Chiefs of EMS have been meeting recently to figure out ways to crack down on the problem. "From having a nurse in the call center doing triage there, to what they call stacking calls, where the low-priority non-emergency calls get held, while the emergency ones are happening," said Fitzgibbons.
But so far, no one has found a real solution. "We’re open to suggestions," said Weaver. "The problem isn’t going to go away so we’re going to have to find a mechanism to deal with it."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2015