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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Can financial penalty boxes stop frivolous calls?

I agree that something has to be done — most of us experience many runs where our services are not needed

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: Residents in a town in N.Y. should be certain they need help when calling 911, because the city might soon charge people if they're dialing for frivolous reasons. Check out Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh's take below.

I'm very interested in finding out if this financial penalty box for "frivolous" calls will make an impact with reducing their volume.

I agree that something has to be done — most of us experience many runs where our services are not needed.

It can be frustrating, to be sure. We have tried a variety of mechanisms to address it, such as public education and efforts like this one.

One option we don't have is not responding — 911 laws compel us to do so, regardless of the reason.

Even a "hang up" compels a public safety agency to provide some type of response. Honestly, I'd rather we err on this side of the debate, despite the headaches of doing so.

The larger issue is that these are symptoms. Despite our efforts to control the types of calls we receive, the issue is far greater and deeper than the niche market we call EMS.

Inadequate public services, lack of access to medical care and a lack of personal responsibility are tough obstacles to overcome.

Most EMS providers are not prepared, nor trained, to handle calls for service that require a social worker, public health expert, or public works.

And it is a bit of "shoveling against the tide" in trying to correct more than one generation of expectations that we have created through the 911 system.

We have seen the development of 511 or 311 services that are designed to take the load off the emergency response system; I have no doubt that these are somewhat effective in reverting nonemergency calls. It will still take some time to shift the public's mindset, though.

Finally, I'll assume that a set of guidelines will be in place as to when and how to apply this penalty fee during an actual call.

Without them, it can become a slippery slope in deciding what is "frivolous" and what is not. That can create the dynamic where on scene EMS personnel might be tempted to apply the rule in an unfair manner. Not worth $55 bucks.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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