Nearly 50 “rides to care” so far in 2018 have been arranged by Spokane Valley firefighters. The innovative program launched in the greater Spokane Valley in August 2017.
Ride to Care is an option firefighters can present to patients who call 911 with a less serious medical issue such as general weakness, illness, minor cuts, abrasions, leg or foot pain, or insect bites. The patient can choose a free ride to a designated urgent care center rather than incur the expense of an ambulance ride to the hospital and emergency room costs.
By connecting the right patient to the right treatment at the right time with Ride to Care, the strain on the overall EMS system is reduced. This means valuable EMS resources including fire engines and ambulances are available for higher priority emergencies and reduces the number of patients with minor medical issues in emergency rooms who could instead have all their needs met at an urgent care center.
Ride to Care is coordinated by Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP) with funding from federal and state grants and private sources. It launched as a pilot program in the City of Spokane in January 2017 and expanded to the Spokane Valley Fire Department service area in August 2017. During the 2017 pilot period, Ride to Care had 203 encounters with 192 clients and provided 315 rides. Ride to Care diverted individuals from higher-cost services (ambulance and emergency rooms) to more appropriate lower-cost services, reducing the cost of transportation and medical services by 61 percent per individual diverted. The pilot program avoided medical and transportation costs of approximately $77,115. Given this initial success, Ride to Care became a regular SNAP program in January 2018.
Here’s how it works: when a citizen calls 911, the response remains the same. Dispatchers collect the information from the caller and choose an emergency medical response based on the apparent severity of the medical problem: a single fire engine with no ambulance for the least serious calls, up to multiple fire engines and ambulances for a serious cardiac problem or stroke. Firefighters screen the patient at the scene and, when appropriate, offer the patient the Ride to Care option. A person with a less serious medical issue like a broken toe or general sickness, is offered an option to get a free ride to urgent care instead of the hospital. If the patient chooses urgent care, a SNAP-contracted vehicle is sent to pick them up and later take them home, with a stop at the pharmacy if needed. The choice of going to an urgent care facility isn’t required, and anyone who wants to go to the hospital in an ambulance can still do so. Participating Valley urgent care clinics include CHAS and Providence.
Although the number of clients served during the pilot year was relatively small, Ride to Care provided a unique contribution toward reducing low-acuity emergency room and 911 use, which made up approximately 24 percent of all medical 911 calls in Spokane in 2017. Clients received services (same-day transportation to urgent card services) that otherwise would not have been available to them, and were highly satisfied with the care received by participating in Ride to Care.
So far in 2018, a total of 339 ‘rides to care’ have been arranged by firefighters in the City of Spokane and Spokane Valley. Of these referrals, 208 are unduplicated (meaning the clients had not previously accepted a ride to care).
Emergency medical service (EMS) incidents account for more than 85% of Spokane Valley Fire Department responses each year.