It is difficult for me to expose what most of know, as reluctant as we may be to admit it, as truth. EMS is held together not by highly trained professionals willing, trained and eager to respond to medical emergencies , but rather by billing, revenue and opportunity to increase wealth. Those of us who have chosen EMS as our livelihood are reticent to speak up, knowing that by doing so we are only hurting ourselves and future Paramedics and EMT’s. Providing rides to medical appointments is perfectly legitimate, unfortunately, we are not being honest about the work we do, which makes us part of the problem. Operating under the illusion of necessity is no way to run a business, and make no mistake; EMS is more of a business than it is a public safety agency. Our very name implies something that we are mostly not; Emergency Medical Responders.
It took some time for me to realize that we had lost the war. For the longest time I truly believed that my job as a person responding to 911 emergencies was of utmost importance to the citizens and taxpayers of this great nation. It wasn’t until those very citizens and taxpayers beat me down did I become a taxi driver who charged ridiculous rates for my services.
Of course, my service could charge anything they want; the people who call 911 for stubbed toes during blizzards have zero intention of paying anyway, but I digress. Somehow, the nation’s 911 system has been turned into a socialized transportation program that entitles people savvy enough to utilize the resources at their disposal the right to beckon trained and courteous medical professionals to their homes, places of employment or anywhere they may be.
And we, the providers happily go along with the debacle. It is far easier to give in, and take the people who call us in than to argue, explain, lecture or refuse transport. It’s a game we play now, and I call it “Getting Through the Shift.”
90% of 911 calls are for non-emergencies. Of that 90%, maybe half probably would benefit from some kind of professional medical evaluation and treatment, but could find the means to get them to the treatment they desire on their own. The other half would be just as safe if they opened their medicine cabinets, used peroxide, aspirin, Tylenol and a band-aid. Of course, many believe that the government should provide these things. The local pharmacy charges for band-aids, but 911 does not-unless you are dumb enough to pay the bill.
Here are a few random examples of 911 calls we respond to every day, everywhere:
I tasted nail polish remover and it’s eating my tongue
I broke up with my boyfriend and feel sad
I took some vitamins and now I can’t stop kicking the wall.
The Oxycontin isn’t working!
My tooth hurts.
I need a breast reduction.
I think I’m hurt
I had a nightmare and I’m scared, real bad.
These examples are nothing new to those of us in the trenches, and the people we complain to. But there are vast amounts of people who have no idea just how badly they are being taken advantage of. When resources are squandered, and real emergencies happen, people die. It’s all fun and games taking people to the hospital in an advanced life support vehicle for foot pain-until the cardiac arrest happens while you are tied up with a non-emergent person.
While the nation’s EMS crews are running around town like idiots, caring for people who have no business calling 911, other people are dying, and that is a fact. It is absolutely absurd how we allow so much of the populace to squander our vital resources.
One popular answer to the problem is add MORE resources to cater to an abusive public. A common complaint heard among overworked EMT’s and Paramedics is “we need more crews.”
Truth is, we need less crews answering fewer 911 calls.
I answered 911 calls for nearly 25 years. When I left EMS, my truck responded to well over 6000 calls a year. Maybe 500 of those rescue runs made a difference in the person who calleds overall health and well-being.
The rest? We made absolutely no difference at all. And the beat goes on. Until it doesn’t, because the closest ALS unit is busy transporting a perfectly healthy but crying infant to the ER.