As Oklahoma City looks to cut back on unnecessary runs on medical calls by its firefighters, city council members expressed a strong desire Tuesday to make sure senior care centers aren't abusing the availability of city emergency services.
The city is in the process of merging its fire dispatch system with that of the Emergency Medical Services Authority, which manages the ambulance service in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and many suburbs. Part of the reason is to reduce overlapping responses when both firefighters and EMSA paramedics are dispatched to minor emergencies.
But Councilman Gary Marrs, a former city fire chief, said Tuesday the city should study how to make nursing homes and assisted living centers pay for calls that prove to be an abuse of the system.
Marrs said some unscrupulous senior living centers call 911 to get firefighters to perform tasks that their own staffs should be doing.
“In my opinion, it's because the homes, the centers, will not staff to the level they need to be staffing at, and they don't staff to the level of experience or certification or whatever it takes to do what they're being paid to do,” Marrs said. “I know that the system — the fire and EMSA system — will tell you that the owners and the operators of these homes have learned what key words to say when they call in so there's no way that we cannot
False calls alleged
Some centers repeatedly call 911 reporting possible heart attacks, but when firefighters arrive it's clear the center wants them “to do nothing more than put people back in bed,” Marrs said.
“If we're going to be the heavy lifter, the load lifter, for these homes and assisted living centers, then we need to be compensated for it,” he said.
It's a problem that Fire Chief Keith Bryant said is documented in the department's records.
“Our firefighters know the facilities that they go to on a frequent basis, and some of them more than others, obviously,” Bryant said. “We put those types of remarks and information into the incident report once they come off that call.”
Councilmen Ed Shadid and Pete White agreed with Marrs.
“I think we're being taken advantage of, and I think we ought to find a way to put a stop to it. It's costing our taxpayers money,” White said.
The efforts to merge EMSA's and the city's dispatch systems are ongoing, but Bryant said technological issues with the system's vendor are holding things up. The city and EMSA estimate they both could realize savings from the merger through reduced overlapping call
EMSA trust to meet
The system merger is among topics expected to come up at the EMSA Trust meeting Wednesday in Stroud.
Shadid, who like Marrs is also an EMSA trustee, said he expects Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett to ask the trust to conduct an audit of EMSA. The Oklahoma City Council passed on a chance to formally request the audit at its meeting last week.
The trustees' performance review of EMSA President and CEO Steve Williamson also is set to be released at the meeting, an EMSA spokeswoman said.