Chronic EMS users costing KC taxpayers millions, says fire chief

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few dozen people are costing Kansas City taxpayers millions of dollars a year by repeatedly calling for an ambulance in non-emergency situations.

Kansas City Fire Department Chief Paul Berardi said the issue is ongoing and affects more than just your wallet, as these chronic ambulance users can also slow response times for legitimate emergency calls.

His records show one person called 911 for an ambulance pickup 200 times in one year. These are calls that come in on top of 80,000 EMS-related calls his department already handles, he said.

“We absolutely respond to all calls for service,” Chief Berardi explained.

But the chronic callers are costly, as $12 million is spent on them each year.

“There is no doubt these high-volume calls impact our ability to serve those true life-threatening emergencies,” he said.

They also overload emergency rooms with patients who would be better served going to a primary care physician for help rather than rely on paramedics.

“These people do need help, they just need a little bit different kind of help than what we’re offering,” said Ross Grundyson, a KCFD battalion chief and paramedic.

Chief Berardi said there is no silver bullet solution, but he's now examining pilot programs in other cities and considering ways to train his first responders more broadly in areas of primary care, mental health and sickness prevention – something known as community paramedicine.

For those people who need medical attention, but not necessarily emergency help, he suggests visiting an urgent care clinic or a primary care doctor.

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