TFD: State Cuts To Services Could Increase 911 Calls
TULSA, Oklahoma - Fire crews are sounding the alarm as budget cuts move another day closer to reality.
If state lawmakers fail to approve a new budget plan, the Tulsa Fire Department says repeat callers will be back in the mix of an already overwhelmed 911 system.
The Tulsa Fire Department started a program in January called CARES.
It's all about helping people who call 911 for needs that aren't really 911 related.
The problem is, most of the agencies they refer those repeat callers to are on the chopping block.
70% of the time you see flashing lights, Tulsa firefighters are headed to a medical call.
But a lot of the calls aren't real emergencies.
They're from super users.
"These are folks who may call us 100 or more times a year to access our services or go to the hospital," said Michael Baker with the Tulsa Fire Department.
"We began to look at why we were going to these homes, and why these patients were requiring emergency services," said Baker.
Firefighters connect super-users to resources they really need, like transportation, housing, food, home health, or mental health services.
"So that their dependency on 911 or calling the fire department for assistance was decreased," said Baker.
One major partner is Family and Children's Services.
The agency serves 18,000 severely mentally ill patients every year.
But if the cuts happen, all outpatient services are gone, along with the non-profits partnership with 'CARES'.
“I've never personally seen the state in this much agony over a budget situation," said Jill Young with Family and Children’s Services.
Experts say it's a situation that would spill over into emergency rooms, driving up costs and diverting non-emergency calls back to firefighters.
"If it's bad now, think about what it would be if we lost those referral sources," said Baker.
This is a widespread problem across Tulsa.
Believe it or not, firefighters say people use 911 resources for anything from a toothache to just being bored and wanting someone to talk to.