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El Cajon's Nurse Navigation 911 program frees up resources for emergencies

El Cajon 911 dispatch center
Posted at 5:03 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 20:03:55-05

EL CAJON, Calif. (KGTV) — El Cajon is the first city in California to use the Nurse Navigation program in an effort to prevent non-emergencies from bogging down 911 resources.

"911 calls are answered here at this dispatch center, and it's these dispatchers who determine how severe the need is," says Lisa Edmondson, the director of nursing for Nurse Navigation. "And they evaluate if the call will be sent to a nurse navigator."

This method of evaluation is linked to the Nurse Navigation program; less severe calls are transferred to nurses. They triage the situation and determine if the patient needs to refer to an urgent care facility, if they need a virtual visit or a consultation with a nurse.

"We have people calling 911 for a toothache, rashes, fevers," Edmondson says.

Edmondson says many states, including California, are dealing with the same problem.

"Now, we have people who are accessing their health care needs through the 911 system," she says. "As a result, we're sending ambulances that we don't have and we are having long ER waits."

Since the Nurse Navigation program started last year in El Cajon, records show 96% of patients referred to Nurse Navigation did not need 911 care.

Of that number, 26% of those residents were treated in their own homes, 21% were treated using the nurse advice line and 20% were sent to urgent care.

Local fire and rescue crews are noticing the change when it comes to the length of their response and wait times. Fewer ambulances are getting stuck at the hospital because of an influx of calls.

Heartland Fire & Rescue Chief Bent Koch explained how this helps his firefighters.

"The fire engine and our squad will have extended on scene times until an ambulance gets [to a scene], because we cannot transport somebody to the hospital in a fire engine," Bent Koch, the Heartland Fire & Rescue chief, told ABC 10News.