Wheeling fire department to charge for nonemergency health care calls

Wheeling residents who repeatedly call firefighters for help moving within their homes or getting out of cars will now have to pay for the service.

The village will charge repeat callers up to $600 per visit on the so-called "invalid assists." The idea is to cut costs and keep firefighters available for emergency situations.

Typically, the residents have ongoing health problems. Rather than seek long-term solutions, they call the fire department for help but refuse to be taken to the hospital, officials said.

The fire and human services departments have connected many residents with resources that can help, but some people have refused assistance, Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac said. He told village board members Monday he hopes the fees can be removed once repeat callers have gotten help and the problem no longer exists.

"It is not meant to be a revenue generator in any way, shape or form," he said.

Though invalid assists account for only 4 percent of fire department calls, the figure has been steadily increasing. In 2009, firefighters responded to 86 invalid assist calls. There were 189 last year.

Under the policy, the first three invalid assist calls in a one-year period won't be charged. Residents will pay $150 on calls four through six; $300 on calls seven through nine; and $600 per incident after 10 or more calls.

The fee structure is intended to deter the most frequent callers from relying on firefighters, rather addressing in-home health care needs, officials said.

A small number of residents are expected to be charged under the policy. The ordinance would've come into effect nine times in 2015 and 13 times in 2016.

The village board unanimously approved the policy Monday.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.