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NC5 Investigates: 911 Emergency

More Medical Calls Get Emergency Response

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Phil Williams with Deputy Chief Steve Meador Phil Williams with Deputy Chief Steve Meador
Steve Meador Steve Meador

The head of Metro's 911 center has resigned and is on her way out.

And, now, the city's emergency communications center has now adopted new policies -- aimed at getting ambulances on the way faster.

Those changes follow an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.

It was some desperate calls that prompted the board that oversees Metro's 911 center to order changes in how calls for ambulances are answered.

"When someone needs help, we ought to be sending the help, then asking questions," said Metro police chief Ronal Serpas, who chairs the board that runs the 911 center.

The first step was to immediately end a policy that sometimes had operators demanding that frantic callers go though a lengthy checklist before they'd send any help.

"Your investigation brought to a head some things that we had been concerned about," Steve Meador, the head of the Metro Fire Department's EMS division, tells NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

The next step for Meador was to look at calls that were being dispatched as non-emergencies.

"It turned out in some cases that there was actually a life-or-death emergency occurring. So it was a critical situation," Meador adds.

The problem was weaknesses in the medical priority dispatch system used by the city.

For example: a call about heart problems would be coded as an emergency where the patient's heart rate was less than 50 beats per minute or greater than 130.

Heart rates within that range were considered non-emergency.

"Whoever is calling 911, we're now asking them to go back and check the pulse," the deputy fire chief says. "Then we'd have to, in some cases, explain to them how to check a pulse."

The new policy tries to keep call takers from having to sort through gray areas over the phone.

For example, an animal bite involving a dangerous body area was an emergency.

An animal bite involving a "possibly" dangerous body area was non-emergency.

Now both are treated as real emergencies.

The same goes for convulsions or seizures where it's not clear that the person is breathing normally and "near hanging, strangulation or suffocation."

"The medical priority dispatch system comes to us out of Salt Lake City, Utah.  It's a good system.  It's used across the nation," Meador says.

"But there's things in there that I'm concerned about that we did not want to use in Nashville, Tennessee."

Six weeks into the new policy, Meador says, complaints from paramedics about dispatches have dropped dramatically -- which he says is good news for the people of Nashville.

"We are tying to respond the way we would want to be responded to."

While the city has implemented those changes, the fire department did not get the money it had requested to put more ambulances on the street.

Consultants are still studying ways to cut down the response time for ambulances.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

 

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