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IBM consultants to solve Memphis EMS problems

The consultants will research the Memphis Fire Department’s high call volume issues and come up with solutions

The Commercial Appeal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland welcomed a team of IBM consultants to the city Monday, launching a three-week study into how the city can reduce the number of people who call for, but don’t need, an ambulance ride.

The five consultants, which are being paid from an IBM Smarter Cities grant valued at $500,000, will give recommendations at the end of the study period, helping the city “look deeper” at a problem that costs time and money, Strickland said to a crowd of fewer than 100 people at Memphis Bioworks in Downtown.

In the three years before 2015, non-emergency calls increased call volume 10.5 percent, according to the city. In 2014, 25,000 of 120,000 Memphis EMS calls were for non-emergencies.

“That leaves us with an ever-increasing call volume, and the rising costs associated with that,” Strickland said.

IBM awarded the grant to Memphis last year, making Memphis one of 130 cities worldwide to receive the grant, said Tina Wilson, manager of IBM corporate citizenship and affairs. The IBM team will spend its first week researching, its second forming solutions, and its third week coming up with a “road map” for the city, she said.

Wilson said IBM has done similar health care studies in the past, but none looking directly at EMS issues, which are a common problem around the country.

“Other cities are going to be looking and watching, and we hope they can benefit from what we’re doing over the next three weeks,” she said.

Fire Services Director Gina Sweat said the IBM team will look at the possibility of adding specially trained nurses to the fire department’s dispatch center and creating legislation to allow “community paramedicine,” which includes letting doctors or paramedics respond to non-emergency calls, among other possible recommendations. IBM will also evaluate the city paying for taxis for non-emergency transports and increasing penalties for people who abuse the system.

“This is not reducing our services,” she said. “This is enhancing the services we provide to the city of Memphis.”

The consultants are Masharn Austin of IBM’s Watson Group in New York; Steffi Diamond, program director for IBM’s Watson Innovations; Kathi Hanrahan, account delivery executive at IBM Global Business Services; Keith Hermiz, senior data scientist with the IBM analytics group who is also heads EMS in Grafton, Vermont; and Hugo Motta, executive project manager at IBM Global Business Services.

As the team members were introducing themselves, Hanrahan said she recently had a family member who benefited from efficient EMS services.

“I embrace this program as something I feel very strongly about giving back to,” she said.

Worth Morgan, Memphis City Council member and chairman of the public safety committee, will act as the council’s liaison on the project, Strickland said.

Memphis was also one of three cities to receive a grant for analysis of how Twitter users interact with EMS.

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