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Nonemergency first responders unit could ease strain on Seattle hospitals

Seattle is establishing a first-responder team for nonemergencies in its downtown area in hopes that it will reduce 911 call volume and relieve pressure on city hospitals that are forced to deal with low-acuity medical issues, according to a Seattle Times report.

The Health One unit, which includes two firefighters and a social worker, will focus on assisting 911 calls related to behavioral crises, substance abuse issues, chronic or low-acute medical issues and social service issues

The unit will also stay with people in distress and aims to provide long-term assistance for people who may be the subject of frequent 911 calls, including directing them to the social services they need, such as homeless shelters.

City leaders hope the unit will help reduce 911 calls and allow most of the fire department to focus on them. The unit could also alleviate pressure on hospitals, such as Harborview Medical Center, where patients with low-acuity medical issues are often sent.

According to the city, 42 percent of 911 calls in 2018 involved nonemergency situations. When the Health One unit launches Oct. 1, officials expect it to handle about 1,000 calls in its first year.

The fire department will track whether the Health One unit is reducing 911 call volume and helping people find the help they need.

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