The repeat callers to Baltimore's 911 ambulance dispatch system are a chronic problem in search of a solution. And the city's health commissioner may have come up with one. As far as pilot projects go, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein's proposal to enlist a health care advocacy group to assess the medical needs of these repeat callers and get them help through traditional means falls into the category of, "Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?" It offers the possibility of resolving the problem to the benefit of both the system and individuals in need of care.
Last year, the city's 911-generated ambulance calls totaled about 150,000, with about 2,000 requests coming from the same 91 people, according to a review by the city. It doesn't take a health care policy expert to figure out that some of these callers, for whatever reason, are relying on the Fire Department's public emergency crews as quick access to health care. That shouldn't be the case even in the worst circumstances, but with the number of uninsured increasing, it's easy to see how it could happen time and again.