Officials: What do Elgin 911 'super users' (100 calls in a year) really need?

Elgin's fire department will try to identify "super users" of medical 911 calls and prioritizing ambulance response based on acuity, and the police department will study longer work shifts as part of an effort to curb costs.

"Mobile integrated health" initiatives increasingly are being used by fire departments across the country, including Aurora and Rockford, Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said Wednesday night during a special meeting of the city council's committee of the whole.

Identifying residents who most frequently dial 911 is about helping them address any underlying needs, such as homelessness or mental health, and reduce medical calls, Schmidt said. Two people generated nearly 100 calls for service in one year, he said, and "that puts a huge tax on our five ambulances and our personnel."

If the city's 911 communications center employed a nurse, that person could help 911 operators figure out which minor medical issues wouldn't need a full-blast response with lights and sirens, he said.

Another option is community paramedicine, where fire departments and hospitals partner for patient follow-up visits to prevent recurrence of medical issues, Schmidt said.

"I'm excited," Councilman Toby Shaw said. "There are lots of opportunities."

Schmidt said the next step will be to approach Advocate Sherman Hospital to discuss partnership options.

The fire department has had a high-overtime staffing model for years. It set aside $1.1 million for overtime out of a $29 million budget for 2018, a $700,000 savings after firefighter staffing changes. Roughly 60 percent of overtime comes from operations, the rest from injury or illness, Schmidt said.

Councilwoman Tish Powell asked what the fire department has done to prevent work-related injuries.

"One of most recent changes is to have the peer fitness team look at some of the injuries and see if we can identify trends and areas we can improve," Schmidt said.

The police department sets aside just more than $2 million for overtime - more than half stems from the patrol division - as part of its $44.7 million budget, Chief Ana Lalley said.

The 911 call center is five employees short, with one currently training, and racks up about 440 hours of overtime per month, she said.

City Manager Rick Kozal pointed out the roster was cut after the 2008-09 recession. "There might be an easy solution, but it's bringing more people in the payroll," he said.

The police department conducted an employee survey this summer. Based on that, an "improvement committee" began discussions Friday and will seeking employees' input on the idea of 10- and 12-hour shifts, Lalley said.

The police department did a 10-hour shift trial for supervisors only a few years ago, she said. "Obviously the union would be heavily involved in that conversation," she said.

Mayor David Kaptain said the firefighters' union also should be part of discussions to address future staffing needs and expenses as residential development continues to grow.

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