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El Cajon launches innovative pilot program to improve 911 medical responses

This new program promises to be a more effective and efficient way to connect 911 callers who are seeking medical assistance with the appropriate care they need.

EL CAJON, Calif. — El Cajon is leading the way in San Diego County when it comes to overhauling its emergency response to medical assistance calls. 

It has green-lit a one-year pilot program to use trained nurses to triage incoming 911 calls, providing help to less serious medical calls so that emergency crews can be utilized more effectively.

Supporters of this innovative new pilot program say it will help reduce emergency room wait times and improve morale among paramedics, all while utilizing emergency resources more wisely.

"We want to be innovative, we want to be smart," said El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who added that this new program is a more effective and efficient way to connect 911 callers who are seeking medical assistance with the appropriate care they need.

"It hones the emergency system  so that we are running at a higher capacity and not wasting time or resources," Wells told CBS 8. 

The El Cajon City Council has approved this concept, allocating $300,000 from the general fund for the first year of the Nurse Navigator Pilot Program.

"What we anticipate is we are going to save much more than the $300,000 we're going to spend," Wells said. 

This program will divert non-life-threatening emergency medical aid calls to trained nurses who could triage the calls as they come in, instead of sending an ambulance and fire truck, as is standard of care for the city's fire department, to all calls.

"Save on overtime for our firefighters, save on wear and tear on the trucks, and just be smarter about how we spend the public's money," Wells said.  

According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, 86% of ambulance transports were medically unnecessary.

"This concept is really taking off," said Kimberly Janicak with Tele911, a nationwide company that partners with local fire departments and EMS agencies, including here in California, providing tele-health consultations with emergency physicians when a paramedic answering a 911 call determines an ambulance transport to the emergency room is not necessary.

"So it really saves resources for the paramedics, saves money and time for the patients, and overall it just makes the EMS system a lot more efficient," Janicak told CBS 8. 

Tele911 also follows up with patients the day after their initial tele-health consultation with a physician. A licensed social worker will contact the patient, helping to connect them with local resources to assist them in coordinating follow-up care. 

Over the next few months, El Cajon will launch a public education campaign to get the word out on its new pilot program, while also training dispatchers on this new system.  

WATCH RELATED: San Diego County to expand Mental Health Crisis services with 988 number (July 2022).


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