Letters to the Editor

Too many 911 calls here are not for emergencies | Letters | Oct. 23

Before voting on the EMS levy, islanders should be aware that BIFD, unlike most other fire departments, does not charge anyone for EMS services – whether or not the patient has health care insurance.

The BIFD philosophy is to raise everyone’s property taxes to pay for the cost of EMS, to the maximum limit permitted by law, before it would consider billing health care insurers.

Since 90 percent of Washington residents have health care insurance that would pay for EMS, why should taxpayers be charged for these services when health care insurance is available?

Another question for voters is the frequency of EMS responses for which there is no emergency.

BIFD’s Strategic Plan shows a decrease in the overall number of calls from 2007 to 2008, but a longer-term increase in calls per person from 1990 to 2008.

Are people on Bainbridge so much more in need of emergency services now than they were in 1990?

Consider 911 EMS statistics for the island. In 2008, 1,298 out of 2,646 calls for EMS (less than 50 percent) resulted in transport to a hospital.

Of those 2,646 calls, 604 (23 percent) resulted in no transport of the patient anywhere, not even to a doctor’s office.

Forty-tree percent (1,161) were for undefined “medical illness” – specifically not including chest pain, strokes, heart attacks, respiratory problems, trauma, drug overdoses, etc. (all of which are identified in BIFD records).

Have calls for EMS replaced patient visits to the doctor’s office? It is far easier to call 911 and have the medics come to your house than to drive to an ER or urgent-care facility and wait.

The difference is that Kitsap County 911 does not perform effective triage of calls. King County 911 has a telephone referral program/nurseline where callers without clear emergency-level symptoms are referred thus freeing up EMS for true emergencies.

Adding a similar referral program, more sophisticated training for dispatchers and more specific triage guidelines to Kitsap 911 (a cost that could be borne by the entire county) would undoubtedly be more efficient than dispatching multiple highly paid BIFD personnel to the homes of the 43 percent of EMS calls for undefined, non-emergency “medical illness.”

I am not against EMS. All the letters we’ve seen from grateful recipients of EMS service are wonderful anecdotes of real emergencies. Bainbridge Island needs EMS.

The issues I raise are who should pay for EMS, and the costly overuse of the 911 system because it is “convenient?”

I encourage all voters to carefully read the BIFD Strategic Plan and FAQ on the BIFD Web site, www.bifd.org before voting on the levy.

June Campbell

Bainbridge Island

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