DENVER — Officials hope a pilot program meant to preserve first responder resources while saving patients time and money will become a more permanent staple of Denver's 911 response.
While ambulances are often seen with lights and sirens heading to an emergency medical call, they also need to respond to 911 calls for less serious, or "lower acuity," medical calls.
"There were somewhere between 300 and 600 calls a month that fall into this lower acuity kind of bucket where, really, the only option that we had from a 911 perspective was to send them an ambulance," said Andrew Dameron, director of emergency communications for the City and County of Denver.
Lower acuity medical calls could be someone with a bad case of the flu, someone with an injury they believe is becoming infected, or someone who simply doesn't know who else to call.
"The vast majority of these calls were coming from the lowest income parts of Denver, as well as our homeless shelters — the folks who are the least in a position to be paying for an ambulance ride and emergency room visit," Dameron said.
Denver Health said coming into the ER with even a minor injury could cost thousands of dollars and would likely require a lengthy wait time while patients with more severe medical needs get seen first.
Denver 911 began a partnership with the Denver Health Nurse Line as a pilot program back in March. It's a free 24/7 nurse line where Denver 911 dispatchers can now send less severe calls.
"They talk to an actual nurse who can assess them and give them recommendations that perhaps we can treat them at home. Sometimes we tell them, they need to go to an urgent care clinic," said Dr. Rick Dart, director of the Denver Health Nurse Line. "The infrastructure costs are so high for emergency departments that each patient is going to sustain a large charge. If we can avoid that for the patient and for the healthcare system, then that's great."
The conversation on the Nurse Line can potentially save time and money for patients while preserving vital resources for first responders.
Since the pilot program started, nearly 1,000 911 calls were sent to the Nurse Line. It was determined that an ambulance was not necessary in 45% of those calls.
"Nearly half of the time. we're avoiding sending an ambulance. What that means is that our EMS dispatchers have more resources available on a day-to-day basis when we do get those calls about real medical emergencies," said Dameron.
Denver City Council will consider adding $193,317.96to the program to extend it through the end of 2024. Right now, the cost of the program is being split between Denver 911 and Denver Health. The total of the proposed new contract would be $676,612.16.
"It really is working really well," said Dameron. "My hope is that they see the benefit that we are seeing."
City council will discuss the proposal at their meeting on December 4.
Access to Denver Health's Nurse Line is free 24/7 for anyone living in the City and County of Denver, even if they don't call 911 first. That number is 303-739-1211.