As issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to cause problems with health care systems, a new program aims to alleviate pressure on emergency services in Monroe County by changing the way 911 callers get help.
Developed as a partnership of Monroe County and medical transportation provider American Medical Response, the Rochester/Monroe County Nurse Navigation Program aims to change the way 911 calls are dispatched to health service workers. Under the new system, callers should have a wider variety of care options and be able to reduce their reliance on hospital emergency departments for primary health care.
Specifically, the Nurse Navigation system will direct calls about conditions that are not life-threatening to a state-licensed nurse who can assess symptoms, give instructions on self-care or call for a virtual visit with an emergency physician. Lines of communication and emergency response personnel can instead focus on life-threatening situations.
Similar navigation systems are being used in other cities, including Washington, D.C.
“The Nurse Navigation Program will modernize our community’s emergency medical response and help alleviate the strain on local ambulance crews and hospitals at a time when COVID-19 continues to spread,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello says.
The COVID pandemic has put strain on emergency services. Since the pandemic began, longer hours, more stressful conditions, and funding issues have caused the numbers of emergency medical technicians and paramedics to drop. A 2021 report by the American Medical Association on frontline health workers found that more than 40 percent of participants reported work overload and burnout.
The most recently available employment census data from the state Department of Labor illustrates this phenomenon in Rochester. As of July 2021, the industry—which includes EMTs and paramedics (ambulatory health care services)—has still not returned to its 2019 employment levels.
Likely connected to that staffing gap, response times for city-contracted AMR ambulances had dropped below their target time in the first few months of 2021, putting them at risk of being fined. Former Mayor Lovely Warren chose not to penalize AMR, however, explaining she believed that fining a company struggling at the height of the pandemic was not productive.
With new surges of COVID cases brought on by winter and the Omicron variant, those issues could return in full force. Rochester Mayor Malik Evans views the Nurse Navigation system as a necessary improvement to aid Rochester’s EMS.
“This project is an excellent example of a public-private collaboration that will improve quality of life. It delivers an innovative solution to some of the issues we’re seeing around staffing shortages and emergency room overcrowding,” Evans says.
AMR, which offers 911 emergency ambulance services in Rochester and backup and mutual aid services for Monroe County volunteer agencies, has previously offered free “earn while you learn” training programs, as recently as last summer. The Nurse Navigation system is another in their efforts to aid the EMS shortage.
“We are proud of our long-term partnership with Rochester and Monroe County to help people get the right care at the right time,” says Tim Frost, regional director for Global Medical Response, AMR’s parent company. “The program will allow us to better serve area residents by ensuring that callers with lower-acuity complaints are presented with more innovative paths to treatment that are often closer to home, where medical treatment can be received faster than a visit to a hospital emergency department.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a contributing writer for the Rochester Beacon.