Feb 5, 2024 - News

How Des Moines plans to reduce ambulance trips to the ER

Illustration of phone with siren emoji.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

People who use ambulance services the most will be the focus of a new city program designed to reduce unnecessary emergency room transports, Des Moines Fire Department assistant chief Percy Coleman tells Axios.

Why it matters: The fire department reviewed its 2022 data and found that 85 of the highest ambulance users amassed about 1,450 transports to area emergency rooms.

  • That averages to just over 17 transports per person and the majority involved issues that were not life threatening, Coleman says. .

Catch up fast: For more than a decade, a growing number of the department's calls have not been fire related. Officials say many were avoidable.

Yes, but: The fire department responded to another record number of calls in 2023 — just over 33,350, up more than 800 from 2022.

Zoom in: People who overuse ambulance services often don't have vehicles.

  • Many have mental or physical disabilities that can complicate their care or decisions for calling, Coleman says.

Of note: Ambulance transports generally cost more than $600, a figure that doesn't include emergency room or other medical costs.

  • Plus, unnecessary calls can interfere with responses to true emergencies, Coleman says.

Driving the news: DSM's new "Mobile Integrated Healthcare" program will launch this spring.

How it works: Fire department staffers, dispatchers and companies that manage Iowa's Medicaid program will identify people with 10 or more transports in a six-month period.

  • Those users will be invited to enroll in a program to help obtain care, which could include transportation assistance.
  • City staffers believe much of the program's projected $250,000 annual cost will be paid via savings, including grants or contributions from insurance companies that could benefit from the program, Coleman says.

The big picture: Communities across the U.S. are dealing with an increase in emergency calls, partly due to aging populations.

Related: Counselors replace DSM police in hundreds of 911 calls.


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