The District on Thursday launched a new program designed to free up emergency resources by redirecting less urgent 911 medical calls to nurses.
The change to 911 protocol comes as dispatchers spend a lot of time on calls that are less urgent. D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean told News4 that of the 500 calls they receive each day, he estimates 200 of them could be diverted.
Under the new "Right Care, Right Now" program, nurses can refer 911 callers to nearby primary care providers.
"When we start this, we are going to start up slow," Dean said. "We will do about 65 calls per day, and then in about six months, we will double that to about 130 calls per day. Then, six months later, we will make a decision to let all the calls that qualify for nurse triage to go to nurse triage."
Dean said that in 2016 his organization received 170,000 medical calls, and that number had just been increasing over the prior years.
The goal of the "Right Care, Right Now" program is to preserve emergency services for those who really need them, by allowing nurses to handle non-emergency medical situations through the triage line.
In the spring of 2016, D.C. Fire and EMS started working with a private emergency services company called American Medical Response. AMR responds to non-life-threatening calls in D.C., while Fire and EMS handles emergency situations.
The nursing team from AMR is supposed to staff the triage line, according to a statement from the company. When people call with a non-emergency medical situation, a nurse can give them a list of local health care providers and schedule an appointment if needed.
Nurses also can arrange same-day transportation for Medicaid and D.C. Healthcare Alliance members if needed. About 70 percent of callers fall into the category of people who qualify for this.
"FEMS has been seeking innovative solutions to address the resource strain posed by the largest per capita call volume for EMS in the nation," AMR said in a statement. "This need, coupled with AMR's unique capabilities, is providing an opportunity to expand access to health care, improve patient experience and increase population health."