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Onondaga County launches new effort to curb low level emergencies from overwhelming 911

Ambulances parked waiting to be called for an emergency.
Nate Bellavia
Ambulances parked waiting to be called for an emergency.

A new program launched a month ago to alleviate pressure on Onondaga County’s emergency medical services is seeing small signs of progress, but lawmakers are hoping to see a greater impact over the next year.

The nurse navigation program that began in May allows 911 dispatchers to divert low level calls to nurses who can deliver help over the phone or coordinate transportation to urgent care.

The goal is to keep less severe medical cases out of the hospital to alleviate the high demand on emergency medical services, which can also be costly for taxpayers. The navigation program is receiving about 10 to 20 calls a day, but in a Tuesday update to the county legislature’s public safety committee, lawmakers learned about half of the calls diverted to nurses are coming back to 911.

Onondaga County Legislator Peggy Chase, who holds a doctorate in nursing and attended the meeting, said she and her colleagues plan to pay close attention to the success of the program.

“We’ll be keeping track of the program to make sure that people are appropriately being triaged to the place that they need to go," Chase said.

Chase, a Democrat, is not a member of the public safety committee, which is chaired by Republican Legislator Mark Olson. But at the meeting Chase complained the details of the program were shared first with legislators through news reports. Olson disagreed.

"Dr. Chase, when you make a comment that you read it in the paper for the first time, that's not a true statement," Olson said.

This year's goal of the nurse navigation system is to receive about 10% of diverted 911 calls.