LA Fire Dept. proposes plan for alcoholics who overuse 911 system

The pilot rehab program would reduce repetitive emergency calls and increase first responder availability

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Fire Department proposed a rehabilitation program for “frequent flyers” of 911 system, in an effort to reduce repetitive calls and increase EMS availability. 

The top 40 “superusers” accounted for nearly 2,000 emergency calls in 2015 in Los Angeles; 60 percent of which are identified as alcoholics. 

“When ambulances are responding to these individuals — sometimes the same individual two times a day, taking the same patient to an ER twice in one day — that ambulance is not available to respond to the rest of the community,” LAFD Medical Director and physician Marc Eckstein told KPCC

The pilot program, called the SOBER Unit, will to send an emergency responder and a community outreach worker from the L.A. Homeless Services Authority to respond to such calls. Responders would arrive with a checklist to make sure the individual is not in immediate danger and would check vital signs, mental status and evidence of head injury or seizure activity. 

If the firefighter or paramedic determines that the patient does not need to be transported to the hospital, the community outreach worker would assist in taking the patient to a new Sobering Center in Skid Row, funded by L.A. County Department of Health Services. 

At the center, the individual could safely detox under professional medical care and have access to social services, like housing. 

“It’s a win-win for everybody: for the patient, for the community, “Eckstein said. “It frees up emergency responses, decompresses the emergency department, saves taxpayers a lot of money.”

The program will be discussed and request funding of nearly $170,000 Tuesday at the Los Angeles City Council’s Innovation, Grants, Technology, Commerce and Trade Committee. 

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