911 misuse, rise in EMS need prompts Roanoke to look at emergency response

911 misuse, rise in EMS need prompts Roanoke to look at emergency response

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Each day, dispatchers and Roanoke Fire/EMS deal with life and death emergencies, but not all the calls they get are for actual emergencies.

When 911 dispatchers pick up a call — they have to be ready for the worst. Often enough, those calls are less than critical.

John Powers, Roanoke E911 System Coordinator, said, “A lot of times people will call 911 when they just don’t know who else to call.”

John Powers knows the problem well. He says they get calls here for stubbed toes, colds and toothaches, just to name a few. Often, those people end up getting a pricey ride to the ER.

Powers said, “Today if you call 911, the only thing we can do really is send you an ambulance or send you a police officer and none of them are really the right choice.”

Chief David Hoback, Roanoke Fire EMS, said, “We have people who have needs, but not necessarily the 911 needs.”

Chief David Hoback with Roanoke Fire/EMS says something needs to change because his EMS crews are busier than ever. They handled around 24 thousand calls last year. He says inappropriate use of 911 makes up about 10 percent.

Hoback said, “If there’s a better way of doing business, then that’s what we have to look at.”

It’s why he’s working on the ‘EMS 2020’ project. It’s bringing together healthcare providers like Carilion and Lewis Gale, with the goal of identifying frequent callers and getting them to more appropriate resources. Plus, he says it’ll give 911 dispatchers more options than sending an ambulance.

Powers said, “If we can avoid having to send that, we’re not tying up ambulances so they’re available for the people who really need them.”

Hoback says the program will hopefully lower response times, but he doesn’t want to discourage anyone from calling 911.

“We certainly would rather be called and not needed than needed and not called,” said Hoback.

When they get that call, he wants the right resources at the ready.

Hoback says EMS 2020 is a three year plan, and people could see some changes to 911 starting in the fall. He stresses that no one will be turned away if they need help.