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Naperville seeing success in new approach to 911 calls stemming from mental health or other issues

Naperville Sun - 4/22/2022

Apr. 21—The Naperville Fire Department is piloting a program aimed at reducing the number of nonemergency calls made to 911 by helping residents get the right resources they need.

Fire Chief Mark Puknatis outlined for the Naperville City Council some of ways his department is adjusting to changing issues in the community.

"We had a patient in the community that called the fire department over 1,000 times in one year," Puknatis said.

Instead of getting repeat calls, he said, the department decided to spend extra time working with the individual to address the underlying issues prompting them to call for help.

"And today, we get zero calls for service. That person is still in town but we were able to figure it out, and we can do that with so many other people," Puknaitis said.

The chief said the community advocate response team launched at the beginning of the year matches 911 callers with the appropriate resources to meet their long-term needs, which in turn reduces the number of typically nonemergency calls.

In the pilot program, two paramedics respond to a 911 call that dispatchers identify as being note quite an emergency.

In typical situations, first responders have about 10 or 15 minutes to decide if a person needs to go to the hospital so they can be deployed to another emergency, he said.

"What we're doing in this case is we're spending time with people. In some cases, we're spending hours at the scene with this nonemergency type of unit that will interview people to find out what is actually going on," Puknaitis said.

The response may involve calling a physician or reaching out to other resources.

By figuring out what the problem is, there's no need to transport the people to a medical facility, which adds more costs that likely aren't needed, he said.

"This eventually reduces our 911 calls and allows for our emergency services or emergency units to be available when they're really needed," Puknaitis said.

The program already has seen success in the first quarter.

Of the 70 people the community advocate response team worked with, 19 were connected to appropriate resources, Puknaitis said.

As people are living longer and aging in the community, more can be done to help them, he said.

"And we can also do more for mental health. We can do more for the just the stream of incidents that we see out in the community. So we're working on that," he said.


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