Anacortes Fire Chief Bill Harris spoke Monday to the mayor and City Council about a new pilot program that aims to reduce police and fire responses to non-emergency 911 calls.

The Mobile Integrated Healthcare Pilot Program will serve as a test to see if the city would benefit from a permanent program to serve frequent 911 callers, who are often elderly or have chronic health conditions, mobility issues or mental health issues.

“A few people utilize 911 far out of proportion than the rest of the community does,” Harris said. “That creates a lot of hardships on the system.”

The program might receive funding through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development COVID-19 grant through 2021, in which the pilot program can begin by administering COVID-19 vaccinations and tests in certain patients’ homes.

The fire department is working on an memorandum of understanding with Island Hospital on how the program should run after 2021.

“It won’t be an all-city funded position,” Harris said. “So much of it will be beneficial to other organizations.”

An expansion to the service after 2021 might include assessing homes for health and safety hazards, connecting patients to community resources, conducting follow-ups with recently discharged patients and helping patients set up telemedicine appointments.

Other potential partners include the Anacortes Family Center, the Anacortes Senior Activity Center, the Anacortes Housing Authority, Skagit Regional Health, the state Department of Social and Health Services, the Northwest Regional Council, North Sound Accountable Community of Health, Behavioral Health and the Anacortes Police Department.

Port Angeles and Bellingham have similar programs that have seen a reduction of calls from frequent 911 users, according to city documents.

A paramedic would be connected with a patient after a referral by community partners or other EMS, or after three 911 calls from the patient in a 30-day period.

“We normally only deal with patients in horrible situations when they’re having an emergency. The opportunity to connect in a different setting and help prevent those emergencies is pretty awesome. We’re looking forward to it,” Harris said.

The City Council approved the creation of a new paramedic position within the Anacortes Fire Department to aid the program.

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