Ambulance

Skagit County’s emergency dispatch center is set to modernize the process of dispatching ambulances.

The Skagit 911 Board of Directors directed staff Wednesday to pursue a partnership with ProQA, a dispatching software used worldwide.

The board will reconvene in about two weeks to take official action, after Skagit 911 and the county Department of Emergency Medical Services draft and sign an agreement.

Josh Pelonio, interim EMS director, said ProQA will guide dispatchers to ask the right questions of those who call 911, and will make it easier for first responders to see this information.

The program walks dispatchers through each call, giving them a series of questions to ask based on what callers say, and uses those answers to determine the severity of the calls, Pelonio said.

Dispatchers are able to override the software, so their expertise and knowledge will still be utilized, he said.

“It’s decision support,” he said.

Under the center’s current guidelines, Pelonio said some call data isn’t being noted.

In the past 41 days, about half of the 1,800 emergency calls were assigned a determinant code — a number that corresponds to the severity of a call and the level of response.

ProQA’s code system is a step toward full criteria-based dispatch, where Skagit 911 ranks emergency calls based on severity, and sends the appropriate level of care, Pelonio said.

Between the software, computer upgrades and staff time, implementation will cost about $270,000 and could be completed within five months of purchase.

Helen Rasmussen, director of Skagit 911, said she will need as much time as possible to train staff on ProQA, considering the center’s continuing staffing struggles.

Currently, she said the dispatch center has 11 unfilled positions, about 30 percent of its budgeted staff. She anticipated at least one or two staff members will choose to leave rather than learn the new system.

The staffing shortage means dispatchers have little flexibility to step away from their consoles to train, Rasmussen said.

“But we will get through that,” she said. “Dispatchers are awesome at accepting change. They roll with the punches.”

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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