Memphis Fire Department dispatchers will be answering fewer non-emergency calls if “The Right Response” initiative works as designed. (Courtesy photo)

by Aisling Maki
Special to The New Tri-State Defender

The Memphis Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services has launched a new initiative called “The Right Response” to streamline responses to emergencies based on callers’ individual needs.
While most emergencies require ambulances or paramedics, other issues could be resolved by a phone conversation or visit with a healthcare provider.
Ambulances would still be dispatched for life-threatening emergencies, but nonemergency callers could receive a response from a partnering health care provider traveling with a paramedic, then be scheduled for an immediate or upcoming doctor visit.
Those answering the phones are specifically trained to recognize the appropriate needs for each caller, and the health care professionals who arrive on the scene carry the life-saving equipment and training necessary to help with any type of medical condition. Doctors who may respond to a medical call will always be accompanied by a Memphis firefighter or paramedic.
The initiative aims to redirect non-emergency callers with sustainable healthcare options so they receive needed care and become less reliant on emergency services, freeing up the 911 lines for people experiencing true emergencies.
“We know there’s a large percentage of people who are underserved,” said EMS Division Chief Andrew Hart. “They have needs that might not be life-threatening, but they do need to see somebody for that issue. We’re getting them to the correct resource the first time.”
Memphis Fire Department Director Gina Sweat said more than 20 percent of 911 calls are non-emergency, and many of these non-emergency callers use 911 because they have nowhere else to turn.
“People are using 911 as access to medical care for needs that aren’t life-threatening emergencies just because they might not realize there are other options available for them, they may not have appropriate transportation, they may not have a primary care physician,” she said. “It’s really easy to call 911 but we want to steer people away from that and make it easier to provide them with other alternatives.”
And using those alternatives can spare patients from having to pay a large hospital bill for an emergency room visit when they may simply need to see a primary care physician or a social services professional.
Initially, the change in the system could result in more emergency calls. But over time that number is projected to decrease as EMS works to connect residents with health care partners who will monitor their care long term.
Partners in the initiative include healthcare organizations, area hospitals, nonprofits and philanthropists. Support includes funding, expanded office hours and transportation options provided by community healthcare partners, and staffing support for immediate medical advice
“The Right Response” partners include Baptist Memorial Healthcare, Christ Community Healthcare, Innovate Memphis, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Regional One Health, Resurrection Health and Saint Francis Hospital.
“We are honored to serve as one of the nonprofit partners in this initiative, which will ultimately improve the overall health and wellness of our community and cast Memphis as a national leader in emergency services,” said Justin Entzminger, director of Innovate Memphis. “We’re hopeful that other partners will also join the effort to ensure sustainability of the project which has already shown promising results.”
The project netted national attention for the city’s innovative methods of handling emergency responses and connecting residents with the right type of response. The pilot launched in April and has provided non-emergency support to about 500 residents.

(For more information visit emsrightresponse.com.)