Phoenix Fire Department turns to taxis for nonemergency 911 callers

The Phoenix Fire Department is increasingly using taxis to transport nonemergency patients and curb ambulance costs, according to The Arizona Republic.

In particular, poor people with no other medical treatment options will frequently call 911 for nonemergency issues, according to Phoenix fire officials.

When paramedics and EMTs determine a 911 caller does not need emergency treatment, the patient can remain where they are, get a ride to a medical treatment center from family and friends or have the Fire Department call and pay for a taxi. 

Although the taxi will take patients wherever they want to go, the taxi drivers typically drop them off at hospitals — about 86 percent in 2016, according to Phoenix fire officials.

But fire department officials are concerned the taxi program is overused. They argue it is difficult to distinguish nonemergency from emergency situations and question whether some of the patients transported in taxis should be treated in ambulances, according to the report.

The program also places increased call volume for dispatch staff attempting to connect clients with taxi drivers. Taxis called by the Fire Department frequently fail to show up, according to dispatchers.

However, as Phoenix fire officials struggle with limited resources, the taxi voucher program presents a way for the city to cut ambulance spending. The average taxi ride costs around $11.60, while ambulance rides cost the city between $800 and $900, plus an additional $18 per mile, according to city of Phoenix figures. 

In 2016, the Phoenix Fire Department dispatched 7,611 taxis to transport patients, a 163 percent increase since 2012.

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