Same patient, different day: GR homeless clog EMS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When you call 911, you expect your emergency to take priority. But first responders near downtown Grand Rapids worry nonemergency calls from repeat customers will delay getting help to those who really need it.

“That’s the thing that I fear the most,” said Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman, who witnessed just such a case at his last department in Aurora, Illinois.

“I had a couple paramedics who came into my office and they were visibly upset,” Lehman recalled.

The crews had been dealing with a nonemergency patient for the third time that day when a call came in a block from the firehouse about a baby who was not breathing.

“It took an additional three minutes to get a unit to the baby because this unit was tied up, and that baby didn’t make it.”

There’s no way to know if a faster response would have saved the baby, but the possibility is there and it’s devastating for first responders.

“Seconds count in this business,” Lehman said.

That’s part of the reason why the Grand Rapids Fire Department is collaborating with police and other agencies to brainstorm ways to reduce nonemergency 911 calls from so-called “super users.”

“We’re clogging the emergency rooms with people who don’t need to be there,” Lehman said.

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