Texas fire dept. takes proactive approach to 911 frequent callers

The Brownsville Fire Department is working to get to the root problems behind 911 callers who frequently ask for assistance—as often as two to five times per week


By Nadia Tamez-Robledo
The Brownsville Herald 

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The Brownsville Fire Department is working to get to the root problems behind 9-1-1 callers who frequently ask for assistance—as often as two to five times per week.

Fire Chief Jerrod Sheldon said the department is preparing to launch a mobile integrated health care unit in mid-November. Despite the technical-sounding name, he said the plan behind the program is simple: assign one or two emergency medical services staff members to evaluate what's causing that population to call 9-1-1 so often and help them sustainably access whatever care they need.

The Brownsville Fire Department is working to get to the root problems behind 9-1-1 callers who frequently ask for assistance. (Photo/BFD)
The Brownsville Fire Department is working to get to the root problems behind 9-1-1 callers who frequently ask for assistance. (Photo/BFD)

"I was trying to find a way with the resources we have already to improve our EMS system," Sheldon said. "We're looking forward to seeing how this plays out and hope to grow it."

Sheldon said it's common that ambulances will be tied up helping in a non-emergency situation when an emergency such as a major vehicle collision occurs. The fire and EMS crews are always able to respond by sending fire trucks and supervisors, he stressed, but the program will cut down on how often that situation arises.

The pilot program will identify frequent 9-1-1 users and look into what's causing the calls, whether it's a lack of transportation to a doctor's office, information about health care programs or not complying with their doctor's orders. Sheldon said some common challenges these callers face also are lack of insurance or being elders who live alone.

After identifying why callers are frequently using the 9-1-1 system, he said EMS staff will connect them with nonprofits or veterans' groups that can help them. The goal is to get them to be more self-sufficient, he added.

"It's a proactive approach," Sheldon said. "EMS is not just a transportation service anymore. This system is situated perfectly for this type of response."

Sheldon said the program is based on similar initiatives created in San Antonio and Dallas but will be tailored to suit Brownsville. One example of a program success in San Antonio was in response to a woman who regularly called the fire department to help her after falling. Staff who evaluated her home found that her bed was too high, Sheldon said, and they fixed the problem simply by lowering its height.

The department is still working to identify frequent 9-1-1 users, but Sheldon said the year-long pilot program will enroll about 20 patients to start. If each person typically calls for EMS four to five times per week, they would represent 80-100 9-1-1 calls, he said.

Other cities that have put similar program in place reduced 9-1-1 calls from participants by about 80 percent, Sheldon said. EMS responds to more than 30,000 per year, he added.

"We've always been responding," Sheldon said. "Let's step in and fix things."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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