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Justice

Too Many People Are Calling 911. Here's a Better Way.

Memphis is working on an alternative for the expensive “you-call, we-haul” approach.
One of two Healthcare Navigators for the Rapid Assessment Decision And Redirection program in Memphis.
One of two Healthcare Navigators for the Rapid Assessment Decision And Redirection program in Memphis.Memphis Fire Department

One out of every five phone calls to 911 in Memphis is a mistake. Of the 130,000 emergency calls in 2016, some 25,000 of them are really non-emergency calls, for everything from misdiagnosed stroke symptoms to simple sore throats. The city dispatches thousands of ambulances to residents who really just need to see a doctor.

This adds up: Medical bills start at $1,000 per ambulance ride, and another $1,000 for an emergency-room visit. The costs only go up from there. Plus, 911 call volume in Memphis has been growing 5 percent annually. Each ambulance the city adds to its fleet comes with a price tag of $1 million per year for personnel and equipment.