911 Changes

The City of Houston is about to try a new program it hopes will save tax dollars and ease overcrowding in local emergency rooms. The goal is to use paramedics and ambulances for emergencies only. Bill Stamps reports that most emergency calls are anything but.

When you call 911 you’ll hear an operator ask you what your emergency is. And if you tell them your elbow hurts, they have no choice but to send an EMS worker if you request it.

Captain Karen DuPont says they send out emergency crews for all sorts of non-emergency reasons.

“Simple lacerations, to the hand or arm or sick call: I’ve been sick for three weeks, my tooth hurts, or I need my medication refilled. And you try to walk a person through, even as an EMT or a paramedic in the field, I don’t know where to send you other than the emergency room.”

Responding to non emergency calls take up the time of EMS workers who could be handling more serious situations. They also clog emergency rooms with patients who may not need to be there.

Under the new program, non-emergency calls will be transfered to a trained nurse who can make a diagnosis on the phone and decide what’s best for the patient.

Mayor White is an enthusiastic supporter of the program.

“We wanna use this old fashioned technology called the TELEPHONE in order to help some of our citizens instead of having to send send out an emergency vehicle”

And that could mean big savings for the city.

“We’re hoping to reduce the number of calls that we are respondent to that are non emergent. Second to that, if the program turns out to be as successful as we think it will be, it will reduce the need for additional EMS units within the city.”

While programs costs run in the millions of dollars, Captain Dupont believes the city will save in the long run.

Bill Stamps, KUHF- Houston Public Radio News.