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New AFD programs to reduce non-emergency calls, improve patient care

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Albuquerque Fire Department Capt. Emily Jaramillo discusses two new programs that will reduce non-emergency calls and improve patient care. One of the programs will focus on callers in the Central Avenue corridor between Interstate 25 and Juan Tabo. (ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Fire Department on Tuesday announced it will initiate two new programs intended to reduce non-emergency medical calls, improve patient care and free up rescue units for more life-threatening calls.

AFD Capt. Emily Jaramillo said Community EMS Care program will allow paramedics and emergency medical technicians to respond in more expanded roles to under-served communities and people citywide who lack access to primary health care and who rely on 911 services for non-urgent situations.

The EMS technicians will provide primary care, post-hospital discharge follow-up care, integration with local public health agencies and provide patients with education and referrals into health prevention programs.

It will also allow the EMS technicians to identify repeat callers, who can be contacted to find out what resources they need and help them get access to those resources where possible so that they’re not continually calling the 911 system.

The Basic Life Support rescue program involves two EMTs in a designated rescue truck responding to non-life-threatening calls in neighborhoods along the Central Avenue corridor from I-25 east to Juan Tabo. That area has the highest call volume in the city, Jaramillo said. The four AFD fire stations in that area collectively take more than 30 percent of all calls in the city.

Among the most common calls are regarding drunk and unconscious people and people who have fallen and injured themselves. The BLS team will be able to transport people to area hospitals in the event the person has a more serious medical issue than was initially reported in the 911 call, Jaramillo said.

“Since 2004, our total call volume has gone up by 58 percent,” said AFD Chief Paul Dow. “In 2004 we responded to 67,000 calls (yearly); now we’re over 107,000 calls,” and 87 percent of them are medical calls.

That volume of calls also makes the AFD the 24th busiest department in the country, Dow said. Dealing with that volume is made more complicated because the department, which is supposed to have 685 sworn members, is currently down to 637, and about 15 percent of them are eligible for retirement, he said.

The two new programs are expected to be launched within the next couple of months. It wasn’t clear how many trucks and crews would be designated for each program, but Dow said existing resources and personnel would be used.

The end result is expected to be a reduction in 911 calls for first responders, fewer ambulance transports and emergency room visits, and the freeing-up of regular rescue units for more serious calls, such as heart attack, stroke and injury trauma.

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