Local News

Durham program aims to redirect non-emergency 911 calls

Posted December 19, 2017 7:07 p.m. EST

— Almost two-thirds of the 911 calls to Durham County EMS aren't emergencies, so officials are experimenting with a program to respond to those callers and free up emergency responders for more serious calls.

The Durham Community Paramedics squad, which launched a month ago, is reaching out to frequent 911 callers, developing relationships and checking in on them to keep their problems from rising to the level of an emergency.

"We have a lot of people that we call familiar faces here in Durham. They call frequently for various reasons," said Capt. Helen Tripp, manager of the Community Paramedics squad. "We've been trying to figure out how to help them to find resources that they need without having to call 911 all the time."

Durham County EMS averages 3,949 calls per month, Tripp said, but 62.9 percent are dispatched as non-emergency calls. Twenty-four patients can account for 123 calls each month, she said.

"There's a bunch of people who call a lot and don't ever seem to get the help they need. So, this program is an opportunity to do that," said Mike Galie, one of two paramedics assigned to the squad.

Ann Prospero is one of the frequent callers Galie and others are trying to help.

The 77-year-old has multiple sclerosis and has to use a wheelchair. When her nursing aide didn't show up one morning, she called 911 for help getting out of bed.

The Community Paramedic squad also advocates on her behalf, getting the management of her independent living center to repair a door jamb that cut her after it had been hit and splintered by her wheelchair and insisting that the management provide her with a means to get downstairs while repairing the center's elevator.

"It means a lot. Sometimes, you feel alone, and you feel like no one cares what happens to you," Prospero said.

"(We're) keeping them healthy in their home so they won't have to use the emergency room so much," said Phil Keene, the other paramedic assigned to the squad.

Durham County commissioners have provided $291,000 to fund the pilot program through June and then will re-evaluate it for the 2018-19 year.

"It frees up our field providers to respond to emergencies on a daily basis," said Kevin Underhill, interim director of Durham County EMS.