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Cost of Growth: Agencies work to combat growing 911 call volumes

8 Apr 2019 12:03 PM | AIMHI Admin (Administrator)

WLOS Source Article | Comments Courtesy of Matt Zavadsky

Interesting call volume changes referenced in the report.


Cost of Growth: Agencies work to combat growing 911 call volumes

by Lauren Brigman

April 4th 2019

As the population in Western North Carolina continues to climb, so does the number of 911 calls in some mountain counties.

Local emergency officials are using various approaches to combat growing call volumes.

In McDowell County, some paramedics practice house calls as part of the Community Paramedic Program.

They visit patients like Richard January, who were frequently making trips to the emergency room. January said he suffered seven heart attacks in 30 years, and chest pains prompted his calls for help until the community paramedics stepped in.

“What we’re really trying to focus on is getting down to the grassroots of the problem,” community paramedic Lt. Chad Robinson said.

He said the program focuses on patients who regularly utilize 911.

“To me, it’s all about getting to know the patient,” Robinson said. “We found out a long time ago that we were transporting for the wrong reason. It’s all about getting them to the right place at the right time."

911 calls like January’s were climbing in McDowell County. County Emergency Services coordinator William Kehler said in 2007 they began seeing growth at 5% to 8% per year.

Since the launch of the Community Paramedic Program in summer 2014, the numbers have dropped.

“We are down almost 10 percent in our call volume for EMS ambulances,” Kehler said.

That means fewer patients are going straight to the emergency room.

Kehler added, “Every 911 call for service is not an emergency. It's estimated about 30 percent of our (McDowell County’s) calls could be better served if we sent a community paramedic."

Community paramedics are helping to keep ambulances available for true emergencies, while building relationships with those they serve.

In Buncombe County, EMS officials report that 911 calls have increased more than 11% since 2014.

In response, within the last month, four additional paramedic positions were added, and the county has contracted a private ambulance company to help take on emergency calls.

In Henderson County, 911 calls have climbed more than 22% since 2014. 

A new emergency services center in the county is providing resources to meet growing needs. Henderson County EMS manager Mike Barnett said it’s helping to expand staff and training needs.

"Over five years, we've added two new EMS stations and 15 full-time staff,” Barnett said.

Henderson County EMS also utilizes the county’s rescue squad for assistance in responding to non-emergency transports.

Emergency officials in Buncombe and Henderson counties said they are keeping an eye on programs like the one in McDowell to see if it could be sustainable there.

News 13 reached out to emergency officials across the mountains and found that Haywood and Macon County EMS also have community paramedic programs.

In Buncombe and Jackson counties, there are similar programs carried out through hospitals to help decrease the likelihood of patient re-admittance.

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