New program aims to cut down on non-emergency 911 calls

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Nine, one, one. They're three numbers we all know, but some callers have lost sight of the meaning of emergency.

"It could be anything from someone not taking their medicine appropriately to they may have had a headache for a couple of days," Gina Sweat, Director of Fire Services, said. "Even having a baby, while that is definitely an urgent issue in someone's life, that's not an emergency situation."

Last year, of the more than 130,000 9-1-1 calls in Memphis, 21 percent of them were not true emergencies.

The 911 problem has been a major issue in Memphis for several years. WMC5's Chief Consumer Investigator Andy Wise looked into the problems several years ago.

To help cut down on resources being tied up non emergent calls, Memphis Fire Department rolled out a new pilot program in April, dispatching SUVs equipped with resources.

"The 911 system is always sort of the fall back. 'I'm not sure what's going on. I'm not sure what to do. Call 911.'" John David Williamson of Resurrection Health said. "And I think that will always be the case. Part of goal is to help people understand that if they have a primary care doctor, call them first."

The innovative program still provides on-site care while helping the people navigate toward their primary care doctor.

Sweat said she already sees the program as a success.

"Right now, we only have two radar cars, and they've been able to respond to a little over 500 calls here in the pilot program," Sweat said. "We have successfully redirected 66 percent of the contacts they've made."

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.