Program unites frequent 911 callers with Aurora Fire resources to relieve strained system

AURORA | Aurora firefighters are working to dissuade a number of people from repeatedly calling 911 for non-emergency issues, a practice that regularly clogs distribution channels and siphons resources from others in need.

Aurora Fire Rescue Lt. Paramedic briefed city council members last week on the status of the city’s relatively nascent high-use 911 program, which brings together several city entities in a bid to prevent people from calling 911 on a daily or weekly basis and instead admit to treatment or long-term care.

Launched in 2018, Hardi and a small team from Aurora Fire currently manage 78 patients who constantly call emergency lines for help, with hundreds of other referrals underway, according to city documents.

One of those women now receiving help was previously among the city’s most prolific 911 callers, phoning dispatchers for alcohol abuse issues on average twice a month, Hardi said. Now enrolled in the program with the help of a court-ordered sobriety program, Hardi said the woman had not called 911 since June.

“I worked with her when I was a primary care physician in an engine company, and have worked with her since I started in this office, so I know her very well,” Hardi said of the woman, who is in her. 1940s. “… At her peak, she generated 911 a week for 13 consecutive months… Since registering, she has not generated any 911 calls.”

Another couple in the program, a husband and wife in their 60s, have also completely stopped calling 911 regularly since Hardi started working with them eight months ago, he said. Aurora Fire staff members managed to get the man into rehab to deal with lingering health issues, and they found a handyman service to help the woman with household issues – one common reason for 911 calls in the past.

Part of the global community health division of the local fire department, the high-responder program is intended to appease the town’s dispatch lines, which have seen higher call volumes related to issues related to fires almost every month this year compared to every month of 2020, according to city data.

“Unfortunately, this high 911 usage and the high volume users that result from it results in many non-emergency calls, straining our city’s resources, overwhelming firefighters, ambulances, area hospitals and more. our limited equipment, ”said Hardi. .

Almost three-quarters of all calls to Aurora Fire are now EMS-related, officials said in recent years, translating to some 33,000 EMS-related calls in 2020, according to the latest report. annual departments.

Through July, Aurora 911 dispatchers handled 32,484 calls related to issues typically handled by local firefighters, a 10% increase from the same period in 2020, the data showed. Total inbound calls to dispatchers, including those related to emergencies and non-emergencies handled by both firefighters and police, increased by 14% in the first seven months of the year compared to 2020, for a total of 307,760 calls.

The increases come as the city’s dispatch team, which is expected to consist of 91 people, is currently down by around 20 employees, Aurora911 director Tina Buneta told council members last month.

David Patterson, CEO of Falck Rocky Mountain, the city’s designated ambulance provider, said his teams have seen similar increases in call and transport volumes this year compared to the onset of COVID-19 last spring. , when call volumes were relatively stable but actual transportation plummeted as fears of exposure at local hospitals multiplied.

“With the volume of calls, I would say spring 21 through summer was extremely busy,” he said. “It’s starting to slow down a bit, but unlike the spring and early summer of 20, a year later it was remarkably busy.”

Each year, Patterson said Falck teams answer about 40,000 calls around the city and physically transport a patient from about 70% of those responses.

Officials have expressed optimism that the newly deployed mobile response team to the city could help further alleviate the pressure on the city’s first responders by sending mental health workers – not cops – to the city. to certain calls made by citizens in the northwestern pocket of the city four days a week.

Hardi said the new three-person crew plan to work with his team to identify patients who may receive help from the 911 program.

Council members may consider bolstering the high-use 911 program with an additional full-time employee in upcoming budget discussions, city management has confirmed.

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