In addition to transporting people to hospitals, the San Antonio Fire Department EMS Department now has a new squad which actually provides health care to people in their homes, with a goal of cutting down on the number of repeat calls to 9-1-1, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Chief Charles Hood says the Mobile Integrated Health Care Unit steps in when people 'use 9-1-1 as a catch-all for those without an avenue or ability to gain access to scheduled healthcare.'
But he says these mainly low income people, who can't afford to pay the costs of an ambulance trip, are costing taxpayers a fortune with their repeated calls to 9-1-1, and are taking up the equivalent of a full ambulance and crew each year with their calls.
"If these folks did not have a program such as this, if they didn't have a program to help them navigate some of these health care issues, than our ambulance runs would be through the roof," Hood told City Council.
Hood says his captains used available data to determine who were the most frequent users of 9-1-1, what they the calls were used for. He says many of the calls these people made were for chronic conditions, like asthma, or for repeated preventable incidents like falls.
So the MIH works with these people, helping, for example, parents of asthmatic children to clean their homes to remove the spores that spark asthma attacks, and works with families to remove obstacles in the home that may lead to falls.
"Make sure that you are getting your medications, make sure you are not falling in your home, make sure you are self sufficient and you won't use the 9-1-1 system as your stopgap," he said.
Hood says this program not only saves taxpayer money by cutting down on ambulance runs, but it also makes ambulances more available for traffic accidents and other calls.
Hood says the City is talking with the hospitals in the area to help pay for the MIH program, because it also reduces the burden on the hospitals which don't have to receive these people in their ERs.
"You can put all the ambulance units in that you want to, its not going to help unless we can stop the flood of people who call us needlessly some times," Hood said. "It is critical that we do that."