Clovis aims to cut back 911 calls

It hopes to promote less costly options.

The Fresno BeeFebruary 11, 2012 

Every time emergency crews are called in Clovis, it costs the city an average of $391. Now, Clovis is looking into ways to cut the number of calls.

The city has studied each of those emergency calls to find out where most of them come from -- the so-called "hot spots."

It found that an area in the southwest part of the city -- between Peach, Villa, Shaw and Santa Ana avenues -- generated the most calls and that one person called the city 80 times, said Andy Haussler, the city's housing program manager.

Clovis wants to create a system to find residents who call most often and get them hooked up with services that won't tie up a fire truck, ambulance or police. It would save money and ease difficulties in deploying emergency crews.

Calls often come from elderly residents who frequently fall down, families in a domestic-violence situation or someone with asthma who has a mold problem in their home.

Haussler's idea came from a project in Camden, N.J., that tracked calls that led to emergency-room visits. Clovis is one of the first cities in California to undertake a similar project, said Dr. Sophia Chang of the California Health Care Foundation in Oakland.

"These are public services we have been providing as a safety net," she said, "but maybe we missed a bigger picture on how we can be helping people much more cost-effectively."

The city is getting help from Fresno State students, local nonprofits, volunteers and apartment and elderly care facility owners.

The students are compiling lists of the most common emergency calls.

"If we understand what leads to these hot spots, then we can undertake a number of front-end programs," said John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State.

When those numbers are tabulated, the city will consider which programs have the best potential, Haussler said. Meetings will be held at apartment complexes and senior-care centers to let residents know they have options other than calling emergency services.

"We have identified chronic users of emergency services that are a drain to the city," said Anne Toyloy, general manager of Affordable Housing Development Corp. "Police presence on your property is not always good."

In Camden, the study found places where most calls came from, said Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, executive director of the Camden Coalition for Health Care.

He then employed a squad of nurses to hit the streets -- make house calls -- and go into the homes of callers.

A survey of 43 patients in his program showed a savings of $3 million because they now go to the hospital a fraction of what they once did, Brenner said.

To fund the program, Brenner said, his organization has gotten grants but also has reached an agreement with the state of New Jersey to get a "meaningful percentage" of verified savings the state realizes from not having to pay for uncompensated emergency room visits.

It's a new way of attacking urban problems, he said, because money is scarce and "you have to target the people driving the cost."

The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6166.

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