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N.C. Non-Emergency Ambulance Service Reduces 9-1-1 Call Volume

The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.

After one year in operation, Haywood County non-emergency ambulance services have reduced 911 call volume, served a need in the community and generated a profit, said county emergency services director Greg Shuping.

“I’m happy to report, I think we hit the nail on the head with this one,” Shuping said to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners. “It’s been a positive thing, for the good.”

Out of necessity, county EMS began running non-emergency calls when Haywood County Rescue Squad went temporarily defunct about one year ago. At that time, the commissioners approved an ambulance staffed by at least two people, one of whom is a trained paramedic—to join the EMS fleet.

The unit was to handle non-emergency, or convalescent, calls during daytime hours.

The convalescent service runs in partnership with Haywood Regional Medical Center and is used by individuals who need transportation to and from medical appointments across the county.

Haywood’s non-emergency call line experienced 15,085 convalescent calls in the past year, including 675 calls from September to December 2019.

The convalescent ambulance also ran 134 emergency calls during that time, when the vehicle was closest to an emergency, Shuping said.

The convalescent calls are estimated to have reduced 911 call volume by 4 percent, reducing the use of Haywood county paramedics by about $250,000 in operational expenses.

Furthermore, the non-emergency vehicle has also decreased Haywood’s need to use out-of-county aid for emergency response during times of high call volume, Shuping said.

“Being an emergency service, we don’t spend a lot of time with the citizens,” Shuping said. “We’re with that person for 8-12 minutes at the scene of a serious emergency. We rush them to the hospital and it’s over with.”

With convalescent trips, there is more of a connection between patients and employees. Shuping said the ambulance crew pitched in to buy a DVD player for a patient to watch during hours-long dialysis treatments.

“We spend a lot more time with some of these folks,” Shuping said. “Some of them go to a certain doctor’s appointment three times a week, and we have the honor of taking them three times a week.”

Shuping told the story of one convalescent patient, who was receiving end-of-life treatment and said they wanted to see the mountains one last time, so the ambulance crew took a moment on the way home from a doctor’s appointment to drive that patient out on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The projected annual cost of the non-emergency transport service is in the range of $241,000, said deputy director Travis Donaldson.

“Projected revenue based on the current billing trend is around $425,000,” Donaldson said. “So that puts us $183,000 in the good on operating costs.”

The non-emergency ambulance is equipped the same as others in the fleet, and is one of eight that takes calls during the daytime. At night, Haywood EMS operates six emergency ambulances.

“A general summary, we’ve upped our service we’re providing to the citizens of Haywood County,” Donaldson said. “We’re using less tax dollars to up that service.”

The commissioners asked if adding another truck might help further cut the number of convalescent transports provided by emergency ambulances.

“We’ll crunch the numbers and have something for you during the budget process,” Shuping said.

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