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Wake EMS is experiencing unprecedented call growth, officials said at a meeting of county commissioners.

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Wake County is getting new help taking and routing 911 calls for medical care and emergencies.

As call centers and emergency departments face high demand and staffing shortages, Wake County Emergency Medical Services on Tuesday announced the launch of the Nurse Navigation Program, a partnership with Global Medical Response, a national medical services company.

Aimed to “help route 911 calls to the right care at the right time to the right place,” the program will use state nurses to help stretched Wake County EMS staff determine what care is needed for emergency calls. not life threatening.

While life-threatening emergency calls will be routed immediately by a 911 operator to rescuers, callers with non-life-threatening emergencies will be routed to a “nurse navigator” at a call center.

“The benefit of having a nurse who can walk through with these callers is that the nurse is able to take their time and be heard,” said Lisa Edmondson, registered nurse at Global Medical Response, during the interview. a press conference at the Wake County Justice Center. “The nurses will also call these patients the next day to see how they are doing and get a patient satisfaction score from them.

Nurse operators can determine a caller’s needs and offer medical advice, connect callers to their primary care providers, transport to a clinic, or telehealth services. They can also direct a life-threatening emergency to rescuers.

Operators will also screen callers to see if they need help in a language other than English, Edmondson said.

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Wake County

Calls that nurses will be able to handle include headaches, toothaches, medication refills, sore throats, minor cuts or rashes that may not require emergency medical attention, said Wake County EMS manager José Cabañas.

The program comes as Wake County EMS faces unprecedented call volumes and staffing shortages, which has forced some 911 callers in non-emergency situations to wait longer for service.

The program was recently implemented in Seattle and was in effect in DeKalb County, Georgia.

“By improving our service delivery, we are able to have operational efficiency in terms of time, so we have more assets and resources available for that next life-threatening call,” Cabañas said.

“Health and emergency care providers across the country and our community have been through a lot over the past few years with the pandemic,” he explained. “So we’re making sure to maximize our resources and our access points to allow (our staff) some breathing space to manage their workload.”

The nurse navigation program will be a “win-win” that will solve operational efficiency and strain on burnt-out workers, he said.

When the 911 calling system is overwhelmed, a shift manager determines which calls need an immediate response, leaving some non-emergency callers waiting up to two hours, The News & Observer previously reported.

Helping the burnout situation in the medical field

In a presentation, Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria said Wake County EMS responds to about 130,000 911 calls on average. The county estimates that 5% of these calls will go to nurse operators in the first year of service, or 25 to 30 calls per day. Over the next year, the county expects to double the number of calls made to nurse operators.

The program is expected to save up to 25 to 30 hours per day for EMS personnel responding to calls, Calabria said.

“I think this system will help the burnout situation in the medical field right now, I think it will help reduce stress in emergency situations…because everyone is understaffed right now,” said UNC Rex Healthcare physician Brian Quigley. “It was really difficult. Pandemics have really taught us some lessons. If we’re going to take any good things out of this pandemic, it’s programs like this. Adapt to people’s needs and do it effectively.

This story was originally published February 16, 2022 8:21 a.m.

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra is a breaking news reporter for The News & Observer and previously covered business and real estate for the paper. His experience includes reporting for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a freelance journalist in Raleigh and Charlotte covering Latin American communities. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, a native Spanish speaker, and was born in Mexico. You can follow his work on Twitter at @aaronsguerra.