Juneau ambulance crews now steering nonemergency cases away from hospital

An ambulance and fire truck inside the downtown Juneau fire station. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Ambulance crews in Juneau are going to be taking fewer people to the hospital. The change in practice is aimed at freeing up hospital resources for higher-risk patients.

City officials announced the new protocol on Monday.

“In the past, pretty much everybody that calls 911 and wants to go to the hospital gets transported,” said Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge. “Right now, what they’re doing is it’s giving them the authority to not transport someone if it’s going to be a wasted trip for the patient because there is nothing that the hospital is going to be able to do for them. … You know, we’re not taking somebody with a broken finger to go see a cardiologist.”

That doesn’t mean 911 callers seeking medical attention will be on their own. Ambulance crews will still respond to calls in person. They will screen for COVID-19 cases, which may lead to testing referrals and home quarantine recommendations. And they’ll treat lower priority issues on scene.

“They can give them the guidance on what they can do … how to self-care, and maybe help make, you know, follow-up appointments with someone,” Etheridge said.

Etheridge said a team that goes by CARES, short for Community Assistance Response and Emergency Services, is also getting readied for follow-up care. That team may be better known for working with other service providers to run a sleep-off center for people who are indigent and intoxicated.

“A lot of people are using the emergency room for their primary care health,” Etheridge said. “And, you know, that’s not necessarily an appropriate use of the emergency room. So this will help kind of … ferret some of those out, get them more steered towards … a family physician or urgent care or something like that.”

If you need nonemergency medical care, authorities say to call your doctor first.

 

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