Slow Response to 911 Abuse Keeps D.C. EMTs Busy


 
 

Tom Knott | | Friday, April 4, 2008


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Have a hangnail? Call 911. A paper cut? Call 911. Need someone to help rearrange the furniture in your home? Call 911.

Who knew the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department was so responsive to all our needs and that a few hypochondriacs in our midst were abusing the system?

It seems that 20 residents account for 10 percent of the city's 127,000 annual calls, says City Administrator Dan Tangherlini. That averages out to 635 calls a person. That is a lot of phone work, which could be put to better use in the telemarketing industry.

Alas, the city finally has fashioned a program to address the caller abuse. It is difficult to imagine what was the tipping point. I mean, if paramedics are continually being called to the same residence to treat a boil or rash, at what point does the bureaucracy crack and attempt to address the issue?

Apparently, it takes a considerable number of non-emergency calls to trigger a corrective response in the bureaucracy.

The 911 department estimates that it receives 49,000 non-emergency calls a year and that roughly 39 percent of the calls to 911 dispatchers are bogus. That means that while paramedics are off on this or that non-emergency call, someone who is having a heart attack is possibly on a wait list.

The 911 department suggests that a few of the more prominent callers are mentally challenged, unable to distinguish between a hangover and a genuine emergency. Still, others are in need of human interaction and think a visit from a friendly paramedic is the solution.

No wonder the city's 911 system is not always the best. No wonder 911 dispatchers are sometimes slow to respond.

Here are your tax dollars at work in a city that will throw its three Electoral College votes to either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton, each of whom has a plan to fix whatever social problem there is with more government, more programs and more taxes.

The latter always results in a neat solution, as we learn anew with the District's per-pupil expenditure, the third highest in the nation.

Perhaps the only thing that was ailing the 911 system was an inability to say no to someone who wants a leaky faucet repaired, the trash taken out to the Super Can and the dog walked around the block.

So you have fallen and can't get up? You could be in more trouble than you could possibly imagine if all the paramedics on duty are responding to a series of non-emergency calls and giving manicures, pedicures and full-body massages.

With the implementation of the "Street Calls" program, the city hopes it can alleviate some of the 911 abuse. It plans to visit the worst offenders, some with chronic but non-emergency health issues.

As for those callers who have an obsession with dialing 911, perhaps the city could have their phone service cut. Better yet, perhaps they could do what the city does best, which is impose fines on them.

That certainly beats measuring how far an automobile's wheels are from the curb. Or checking to see if the wheels are turned in the proper direction from the curb in the event the automobile falls out of gear and starts rolling down the hill, whereupon it strikes three unsuspecting pedestrians who then will need prompt emergency help.

That help possibly will not be forthcoming, because the paramedics will be cleaning the bathroom of a 911 caller. Or having a cup of coffee with a lonely 911 caller.

Dr. Michael D. Williams, the fire department's chief medical officer, says, "If we can get one of those folks out of the system, that cuts a couple of hundred transports a year."

And it spares the beleaguered taxpayers of the city further financial insult.




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Related Topics: Communications and Dispatch, Leadership and Professionalism

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