In-Depth: 1,200 calls for an ambulance diverted to Nurse Navigator program in first year

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. When you call 911, you expect to get an ambulance and most of the time, you will.

But, if you don’t truly need one, a 911 operator may ask to transfer you to a nurse instead. The Nurse Navigator program has been up and running in Monroe County for a little more than a year now and so far about 1,200 calls, roughly three per day, are being diverted to it.

Since before the start of the pandemic, News10NBC has been reporting on the many challenges our EMS system is facing. From staffing shortages to reimbursement rates, agencies are looking for ways to take some stress off the system.

“Not everything needs an ambulance,” says Tim Frost, the regional director of AMR. “Not everything needs to go to an emergency department and everything that we can put in place to offer options so that people can get what they need and not break down the system further is a bonus.”

As part of its contract with the City of Rochester, AMR set up the Nurse Navigator program and currently covers the cost of it. If you call 911 in Monroe County, depending on what’s wrong, you may be asked if you’ll agree to be transferred to a nurse instead.

“These are illnesses like a sore throat, ear aches, dental pain, my wrist hurts… things along those lines,” explains Dr. Jeremy Cushman, the medical director for both Monroe County and the City of Rochester.

Since the Nurse Navigator program started 15 months ago, about 1,200 calls have been diverted to it. In nearly 60% of those cases, the nurse was either able to help the patient over the phone or set up an immediate telehealth visit for them. If the need is more urgent, the nurse navigator is able to connect the patient to a local urgent care, dental clinic or treatment program and even arrange a free Lyft to and from the appointment.

“This was never intended to be the panacea for the emergency services crisis in Rochester or the United States right now,” explains Dr. Cushman. “It is simply one of many initiatives to get the right care to the right patient at the right time.”

The city and county get real-time updates on how customers who use nurse navigation like it. Right now, Dr. Cushman says the patient satisfaction score ranges from 4.8-4.9 out of 5.

“As the community becomes more and more used to the concept, we’re seeing a gradual increase in the use and last month was the busiest month that we’ve seen since inception of the program,” Frost says.

When asked whether the program has helped speed up the response times of ambulances in our community, Frost said, “I think it’s just like any other complex scenario. We are devising non-traditional ways to solve things in a greater community that is stressed. Every little thing you add relief to helps with the overall story.”

The Nurse Navigator program is completely optional. If you call 911 and you want an ambulance, you will get an ambulance. If you agree to be diverted to a nurse but then decide you still want an ambulance, you will get an ambulance.

The 1,200 calls account for a little less than 2% of the total calls into the Monroe County 911 center but Dr. Cushman says it’s a good start.

“We knew going into this that nurse navigation is just one part of a much larger process to be able to get patients to the healthcare they need,” he says.