I'll start by telling you a quick story:
Last night while riding with a friend to her house, I glanced in the side mirror of her car and watched a homeless woman fall from the curb into the middle of a crowded intersection in Austin. If anyone knows Austin you know that when I say crowded, I mean crowded. It was late but there were certainly a fair amount of cars on the road. I instantly felt a terrible sinking feeling and thought I might be sick. I saw car lights coming around the curve quickly and noticed that the woman had a heavy backpack on her back (unable to get up) and two dogs in tow. I did what I assumed anyone would do - I got out of the car, helped her out of the street and posted her up in an area that was further from the curb. The woman quickly confessed, "Sorry, I've had too much wine." Who am I to judge? I told her it didn't matter to me and that I just wanted her and the dogs safe and far from the street. When I felt like the woman was in a safe location, I jumped back into the car with my friend and went along my way. "What next?" I asked my friend. "Call 911" she responded. I thought to myself, well sure, what else am I supposed to do? They teach you that you should render aid in the event you think someone is in trouble, right? Regardless if she was intoxicated, I didn't think it was appropriate not to call. As far as I was concerned her and the dogs being in the middle of the street wasn't safe for anyone.
Fast forward to 8:15 am this morning. Here I was, in the car again, ironically, on the same path that I was last night when the above encounter happened. Then, I changed the radio station. I'll admit, I love a good talk radio. The hosts were discussing one of the top stories of the day as seen in the Austin American Statesman - "Austin-Travis County EMS aims to match habitual 911 callers to social services." My ears perked up as the program host said "well, rest assured the majority of these habitual callers are those crazies that think someone is in their attic or there are ghost footsteps outside their bedroom door." I'll be honest, I'm already a bad driver. This, folks, this did NOT help make the streets of Austin any safer. If I wouldn't have been so close to work, they would've heard from me. Tonight, I dove into the story a little more and will share with you some of the details they were discussing.
A new program hit Austin in 2009 that hopes to to cut down on unnecessary EMS calls by matching the aforementioned frequent callers with the social service that best fits their need. The article elaborates, "EMS officials are trying to cure it with help from mental health professionals, clinics, nonprofits and hospitals interested in reducing the strain on their emergency rooms. But just one Austin-Travis County EMS paramedic among 352, Cmdr. Andy Hofmeister, is assigned to a program to tackle it.
The Community Health Paramedic Program, begun in December 2009, mirrors efforts around the country to match frequent EMS callers to services that address their needs. After an ambulance responds to a frequent 911 caller, Hofmeister will follow up — at the person's home or the hospital — to try to get to the nub of the trouble.
Usually, it's a combination of mental, physical and social ills. A diabetic has missed doses of her medicine. She also has schizophrenia and can't afford the right foods. Now she needs to go to the emergency room, but a hospital trip could have been prevented." From what EMS officials can tell, the program is doing its job. Officials followed 10 frequent users since the beginning of the program and noticed that after the appropriate service was provided to the user their EMS calls dropped by 79%. No doubt, this is fantastic. Where my concern comes from is that these individuals with mental health issues are expected to get services from mental health programs that will likely see a budget cut of $134 million dollars. So tell me this readers, how can these individuals seek help from programs that are seeing budget cuts. State hospitals already lack bed space for many with mental health issues in Texas but we expect them to house more. I understand, I really do. We desperately need to find a solution, but if no one will take them, if no one has the budget to help them, then, what now?
You can see why I felt so angry listening to the radio hosts this morning. I understand that there is no fixing the world, but isn't it evident that if you fix one part of the machine, you're breaking another? Readers, I pose this question to you - If our family members or friends shouldn't be calling 911 and can't be checked into an institution because there is no vacancy, what should we instruct them to do?
"Mental health programs hit hard in proposed budget cuts" http://www.statesman.com/news/texas-politics/mental-health-programs-hit-hard-in-proposed-budget-791351.html
"Austin-Travis County EMS aims to match habitual 911 callers to social services" http://www.statesman.com/news/local/austin-travis-county-ems-aims-to-match-habitual-1582075.html