Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308
Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 3:54 p.m.
Medical problems are the Spokane Fire Department’s number one call for service.
However, once medics arrive, sometimes they find the patient who dialed 911 really isn’t in need of high-level emergency care.
“Somebody having non-priority symptoms like a sore throat, hurt shoulder, non-descript abdominal pain,” said Fire Chief Brain Schaeffer.
Up until early last year, those low acuity cases were transported to local emergency rooms because there were no other options.
“We have always put people in the back of an ambulance and taken them to a hospital,” explained Mike Lopez, the fire department’s Integrated Medical Services manager.
In 2016, that old-school way of dealing with 911 medical calls led to ten thousand ambulance rides to the E-R. But doctors later determined a lot of them really weren’t necessary.
“Those increasing number of calls for those situations actually overwhelm the emergency care system and take resources away from cardiac arrests, the strokes the heart attacks and that kind of thing,” laments Lopez.
That’s why Spokane and Spokane Valley Fire are now taking a new approach to their medical calls with a program called “Spokane Ride to Care”.
Dial 9-1-1 and you’ll still have EMT’s and paramedics evaluating your injury or illness in a matter of minutes, but how and where you are taken for treatment could now be different.
“We’ll provide, at no cost, transportation from their residence or from the scene to the urgent care,” said Lopez.
Medstar Transportation has a contract to provide the Ride to Care service. Medstar’s paratransit vans are wheelchair accessible and equipped with fire extinguishers.
Drivers, like Damon Agnew, know first aid, CPR, and are dispatched to calls at the fire department’s request.
Patients are taken to participating urgent care centers but only if their symptoms don’t warrant emergency treatment.
“Chest pains, strokes any type of trauma. Those people are not going to be referred into the program,” Lopez said of symptoms that disqualify patients from Ride to Care referrals.
However, patients with non-emergent health problems can use the Ride to Care van to get to an urgent care facility where Lopez says they’re going to get treatment and start feeling better sooner.
“By getting somebody to an urgent care, they’re going to get access to a physician or nurse practitioner faster than if they went to the emergency department and sat in the waiting room,” predicted Lopez.
“Oh absolutely. You get the appropriate level of care but at the same time you also get timely care,” added Schaeffer.
The Spokane Ride to Care van also picks up patients at the urgent care center after they’ve been treated and takes them to participating pharmacies to have their prescriptions filled.
Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners or SNAP helped find funding for Spokane Ride to Care and administers the program in the hopes of providing better medical treatment.
“So we are not denying them care, we are trying to get them the right care. The right care to the right person in the right setting at the right time,” Lopez emphasized.
Experts say by letting paramedics triage 911 medical calls after they arrive on scene and then using Ride to Care when it’s appropriate saves everyone time and money.
“We can improve the health care experience for the individual, getting them better access to care faster and then, reducing the overall cost to the health care system,” said Lopez.
However, to make sure Ride to Care is meeting performance standards, SNAP has asked the Spokane Regional Health District to independently assess the program.