Wash. Agency Set to Roll Out New Emergency Response Plan

Wash. Agency Set to Roll Out New Emergency Response Plan

News Mar 18, 2016

March 18--Lacey City Council got a glimpse of the city's emergency response future on Thursday -- one in which less serious medical calls to 911 wouldn't be handled by firefighters, paramedics and private ambulance companies, but possibly by as few as two people.

That was the thrust of a presentation given by Lacey Fire District 3 Chief Steve Brooks, who outlined an emergency response model that has been studied by the district, and that it hopes to implement later this year.

Simply put: the fire district is looking to alleviate the increasing demand for its services in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. Fewer resources devoted to less serious medical calls means the district can focus on real emergencies, such as fighting fires or responding to heart attack calls.

As Lacey and its urban growth area grow, emergency call volumes continue to rise for the district, Brooks said. In the past few years, call volumes have gone up 8 percent to 10 percent a year. The first quarter of this year is almost over and yet call volumes are already 9 percent higher than the same period last year, he said.

Among the calls are those less serious medical calls, yet the response in that situation might include an engine, paramedics and a private ambulance company, which results in a trip to a local emergency room. Brooks said some people call 911 for their primary health care needs, instead of visiting a doctor.

The alternative -- and it's a model that currently is under way in Mesa, Arizona, Brooks said -- is to pair a firefighter-paramedic with a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. They would respond to that less serious medical call, and either deliver the patient to an urgent care center, or offer a higher level of care on the spot, with a referral to a doctor, he said.

The same model also could be applied to mental health needs by pairing the firefighter-paramedic with a behavioral health specialist, Brooks said. He added that the Olympia Fire Department is interested in that model for mental health issues the department encounters in downtown Olympia.

Both approaches show cost savings, said Brooks, citing the Mesa example.

Costs per patient were under $400, compared to $3,000 for delivering a patient to an emergency room, or about $12,000 for a mental health patient requiring a longer stay in an emergency room.

"There is the potential for significant cost savings," Brooks said.

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Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder inquired about how the district plans to fund the program.

A specific dollar figure wasn't shared, but Brooks said the district's fire commission is committed to some level of investment to show that the program has value, such as adding a nurse practitioner in lieu of adding another firefighter position, Brooks said.

Paying for the service after that might mean some form of cost recovery: billing for the service and getting private insurance companies involved -- and they might be interested if the program is a success, he said.

The fire district hopes to roll out a version of the program in the third quarter of the year, Brooks said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403, @rolf_boone

Copyright 2016 - The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)

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