Tuscaloosa and UA team up on EMS prevention program

Camille Studebaker

In order to decrease the City of Tuscaloosa’s high non-emergency 911 call volume, Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Services and The University of Alabama’s School of Social Work have teamed up to strengthen their new EMS Prevention Program. The 
program is intended to help citizens utilize more suitable resources for their care in less critical situations.

“The program is housed in the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service, where emergency response personnel work with UA Social Work students to assess needs and barriers to care – 
mental health, medication, 
chronic illnesses – and, if needed, dispatch alternative care teams in lieu of full medical emergency teams, which often require more vehicles and personnel,” according to a City of Tuscaloosa press release from May.

The program is changing the way Tuscaloosa operates its 911 call center. Students working with Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Services now go on 911 calls and follow up with clients after.

“In Tuscaloosa, prior to this project, there was not a 
partnership between social work and EMS. However, there has been a national concern around community members calling for
 non-emergency issues,” said Allison Curington, LCSW Field Director for the University’s School of Social Work.

Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Chief, Chris Williamson, reached out to Curington’s office to get social work resources, and she saw the program as a really good opportunity to get UA’s School of Social Work involved in 
the community.

“We’re really excited about this partnership,” Curington said.

Patients are referred to social work students if a social work 
follow-up is necessary. Students can be involved and respond with clients when appropriate. They try to assist the clients who call 911 who are not in an emergency but still have needs, 
Curington said.

Calling 911 can have major financial costs for those in 
trouble, and the ER is often the most expensive way to be treated, Curington said. Because of these factors, social work students are trying to eliminate the burden on residents having to pay the unnecessary costs for their 
specific needs.The program also aims to help those who do need to call 911 by reducing the overall call volume and allowing emergency services to reach those who are in most need of attention. In a City of Tuscaloosa press release, Chief Williamson said the city’s medical call volume has been gradually increasing, and the call center now receives between 11,000 and 12,000 each year. He said at least a quarter of the calls are from residents who lack easy primary care and are usually low-level emergencies.

“The EMS Prevention Team now conducts home visits, where assessments are done and 
information of alternative options are given to citizens,” the press release reads. “Additionally, team members were given the 
opportunity to assist citizens who had lost their homes in an apartment fire and were given the opportunity to respond on low-level emergencies with the department’s Alternative Response units.”

However, the city reminds its citizens that there are still certainly still instances where individuals need to call 911. Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue’s web page includes information on when to call 911 in an emergency. “When you see bleeding, 
difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, unconsciousness or confusion, serious burns, choking or possible broken bones, your call can mean the difference between life and death,” it reads. It also lists the common 
symptoms of a heart attack, stroke and diabetic seizure, which call for immediate medical attention.

Curington said the social work students want to get the word out for the program so the community is aware of its availability.

“Social work students are available through outreach, 
program development and removing barriers for patients to get needed services,” she said.