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REMSA: Save 911 for emergencies

By Kristen Hackbarth

An official from local emergency medical services provider REMSA on Wednesday said that ambulances responded to a record 299 calls on Tuesday, Jan. 11, but not all of them were emergencies. That is stressing an already overloaded health system, he said.

“Stop calling 911 for things that are not emergencies,” said Adam Heinz, a director at REMSA. The plea was in response to emergency responders fielding calls for rashes, toe pain and other non-emergency health concerns that are better treated at an urgent care or by primary care doctors.

About 30% of calls for REMSA are what are considered “low acuity,” Heinz said, where a patient is receiving a ride to the hospital but is many times placed in triage, better known as the waiting room.

Heinz said REMSA usually responds to about 230 to 250 calls per day in a normal January, but the increase in calls is now compounded with staff shortages due to COVID-19.

About 9% of REMSA’s emergency response team, just under 30 people, are out sick with COVID-19. Heinz said that despite the organization’s use of personal protective equipment and testing, and having nearly all of their staff vaccinated for COVID and some with boosters, omicron is still having an effect. 

Any staff members who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms are sent home to isolate.

Heinz said REMSA has a “deep bench” of expertise, and for now is pulling in senior leadership and educators with EMS experience to staff units and maintain service as normal levels. “But that only lasts for so long,” he said.

The company hasn’t cut any ambulance service yet, but they may have to in the future if the omicron surge continues to affect staff members.

To aid community members in determining whether they truly need emergency response or can get care elsewhere, REMSA and Washoe County Health District launched ChooseTheRightCare.com.

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