Fire department to roll out mobile health care program

Union says program only benefits hospitals

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood Tuesday unveiled the Mobile Integrated Healthcare pilot program.

The program's goal is to reduce unnecessary 911 calls from residents who chronically call for help.

"We call them 'high-volume utilizers,' people that end up calling our system 10 to 12 times a year. When they call EMS, what happens is we end up transporting them and sometimes they come back home within 48 hours and we end up transporting them again," said Hood.

The program will begin on October 1. Five paramedics would routinely check on the 286 "high-volume utilizers," performing wellness checks, administering medicine, and providing health education.

According to the department 286 people were responsible for nearly 4,000 911 calls in 2013. Those calls resulted in approximately 2,400 trips to the hospital, many of them unnecessary. Hood said these high-volume callers cost the city approximately $1.8 million annually.

"The EMS system is very fluid, and we cannot continue to go on frequent callers and provide the services that we need to, so it's an efficiency for us and it's a change in the quality of their health care," Hood said.

The program is facing harsh opposition from the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association. The group's president sent a press release Monday titled "Charles Hood steps down as fire chief, and goes to work for the hospitals in San Antonio."

Hood said the headline is completely false and he is not stepping down, but the union believes the program will only benefit hospitals and will take much needed resources away from the department.

"The only reason they're doing it is to stop re-admittance fees that the hospital is going to get under Obamacare to save the hospital money," said union President Christopher Steele. "It doesn't do anything for the citizens or the San Antonio Fire Department."

The department is using existing financial resources to fund the pilot program.

"We're taking some of our peak funding and moving it over (to the pilot program)," Hood said.

Steele said moving that money will impact public safety.

"When I can't run Fire Station 40's peak-hour ambulance 12 hours a day, now I have to run it eight hours a day, you took away from those people for this program," said Steele.

But Hood was adamant the program will not impact response times.

"This is going to take off 3,000 (ambulance) runs for us, and so by that happening, we're looking at a 1.3-second improvement in our response time," he said.