There is so much about the city of Detroit that does not operate like any other major city.
Its street lights [40 percent don’t work], its payroll system [done by hand because of an ancient and broken down computer system that never did work], its bankruptcy filing with $18 billion in liabilities.
We have heard of the myriad problems with its ambulances, literally falling apart while on runs and rarely available for transports in severe emergencies. Race car magnate and Detroit benefactor Roger Penske chipped in with others of his stripe to buy new ambulances for the city and they are now on the street. EMTs are grateful for the new gear.
But there is an age-old Detroit problem that still bogs down city emergency services: Residents call 911 knowing if an ambulance comes they will get a ride to the emergency room because both are required by law.
City of Detroit EMTs we spoke with today [with permission from Kevyn Orr's office] said residents know just the words to use to get an ambulance to their home: severe indigestion, high blood pressure, heart issues and the like. But when EMTs arrive they find, as they did over the weekend at a senior home, the 911 call stemmed from frivolous problems. In this case it was the man’s having eaten too many holiday cookies. The elderly man asked the paramedics if they had any Pepto Bismol. They said no and then he refused his ride to the emergency room.
The EMTs union claims there were eight other emergency calls on the board at that very time and they wasted a precious 1/2 hour that meant others with possibly life-threatening medical problems did not get the emergency care they could otherwise have had. In fact, the union claims 30 percent of all of the calls they get end this way. They also say 60 percent of the calls they get really don’t require an ambulance or emergency care either. They believe it is because Detroit over the years became used to getting its medical care in the emergency room and the best way to get there was by an ambulance as close as their telephone.
The paramedics are now asking Detroit to rethink the way it uses 911. If you could just as easily solve your medical issues with a trip to the local pharmacy for something like a stubbed toe or an ingrown toe nail then they say calling 911 should never be an option. There are crime victims out there that really need that ambulance. They take the blame on themselves saying they have not done a good enough job telling residents what 911 is really for. This is their way of better educating the public.
Detroit's paramedics do find themselves getting the short end of the stick for years, poor equipment, not enough equipment, pay cuts just like Detroit’s police officers and firefighters.
Detroit is beleaguered in so many ways; this is a classic example of how the city could easily help itself at minimal cost.