Sheriff: Misuse of emergency services jeopardizes others

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 2, 2004

[1/31/04]About 270 calls in one year from one address to 911 may represent a misuse of emergency services, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said.

E-911 records show the responses were made by medical, firefighting and law-enforcement personnel during 2003 to one home in Warren County, he said, but the sheriff would not identify the address.

Addressing fellow members of the E-911 commission members during a monthly meeting Wednesday, Pace stressed that no call can be refused. He added, however, that any misuse of the county’s emergency-response resources could adversely affect other callers by limiting the availability of services to them.

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Of the 270 calls, 83 were ambulance runs, Pace said.

“Most are rides to the hospital,” he said, adding that the situation has escalated to the point that dispatchers will not send ambulances to the address without also sending a sheriff’s deputy at the same time.

State criminal laws on the subject provide for penalties only for filing a false police report or for making a deliberately bogus 911 call, Pace said.

The residents of the address have been counseled, to no effect, Pace said.

Commissioner David McDonald, the county’s District 1 supervisor, asked if the address’ residents were being charged any billable costs of the ambulance runs.

“I would think that after a while if we made a concerted effort to collect,” then the problem might diminish, McDonald said.

E-911 Commissioner Keith Rogers, the Vicksburg Fire Chief whose department provided the ambulance services, said all residents whose calls for ambulances result in hospital trips are billed for those runs.

The Vicksburg Fire Department provides ambulance service for the entire county. The department does not bill for every ambulance run or service it provides, so it operates at a net cost to the city and county governments.

That cost is budgeted for the current fiscal year at $1.6 million, including the partial offset of $800,000 in collections from individuals, insurance companies and goverment health-insurance programs, said John Smith of the City of Vicksburg accounting department.

For about two fiscal years, the city has contracted with a healthcare-billing specialist to handle bills and, when necessary, with a collection agency to collect some old debts, Smith said. About 65 percent of billed costs are collected, he said.