MEDIC adjusts its response times to 911 calls based on their urgency

CHARLOTTE — MEDIC has laid out its new plan for how it responds to medical emergencies.

Most drivers know to pull over if they hear sirens. But the changes MEDIC will enact mean we’ll hear sirens less often. More calls will be responded to without the flashing lights and as priority traffic.

Those changes will take effect at some point next year.

Mecklenburg EMS, local hospital leaders and the Charlotte Fire Department laid out the changes to county commissioners Tuesday. They said this is about best practices and not staff shortages.

MEDIC is realigning its responses also. Mecklenburg EMS is currently responding to 76% of calls with lights and sirens, but they said only 5% actually need that level of critical care.

The change means it will take a little longer for some non-urgent calls.

VIDEO BELOW: Mother of man, who died in CMPD custody, questions emergency response times

“Just like a hospital. When someone walks into a hospital, the hospital has to determine ‘who is the sickest patient I need to treat now’ versus someone who is not as sick that can wait a little longer,” said John Peterson with MEDIC.

It will be up to the dispatcher and the caller to determine the appropriate response.

Some county commissioners are worried about response time for serious but non-life-threatening injuries

“I think about my 75-year-old mother who came to visit me, missed the bottom step of my house and had a complete break,” said Commissioner Leigh Altman.

Medic is stressing injuries, such as that, will still be treated but the response will not be as big of a priority as something like a heart attack at the same time nearby

Commissioners said they trust MEDIC’s plan and back it but said the public will need education and possibly convincing.

“I think that is going to be an adjustment for the public,” Commissioner Laura Meier said.

“I do think we have to consider some of the unforeseen consequences sometimes of just going for efficiency and so I do feel concerned about,” Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said. “But I really do support the idea of what you are doing.”

MEDIC overhauls response times

When you call 911 in Mecklenburg County next year, you could have to wait up to 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

MEDIC is making changes to its response times based on the severity of the call received. Starting around March, only 19% of calls to MEDIC will get an immediate response with lights and sirens. All other calls will take longer and won’t be met with flashing lights.

“What we are doing now will be able to better protect our sickest patients which is what our mission is,” said John Peterson, the agency’s executive director.

It’s the first time in 25 years that MEDIC has drastically changed its response times.

Channel 9′s Gina Esposito has spent years working with MEDIC and learning how 911 calls are handled in Mecklenburg County. She sat down with Peterson to find out what this means for you.

Priority response calls won’t see any change in response time. Priority calls include patients who are unconscious or not breathing, for example. They will still see an ambulance with lights and sirens within 10 minutes and 59 seconds. That’s not changing, but all other calls will be broken down like this:

  • 15-minute response: Instead of a 12 minute response, callers complaining of headaches and some trouble breathing will see an ambulance within 15 minutes. The delay is because MEDIC will no longer respond with lights and sirens.
  • 30-minute response: This includes patients with minor injuries from a car accident on city streets. Crashes on interstates will generate a faster response.
  • 60-minute response: For about a year, MEDIC has been testing a 60-minute response time, which is for callers with a general illness or minor bleeding.
  • 90-minute response: MEDIC is adding a 90-minute response for patients who essentially need a ride to the hospital but decline a ride-share.

“I think it’s important for people to do know that even thought its a 60-minute response, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, the reality is the majority of the time its going to be much faster,” Peterson said.

Esposito checked MEDIC’s most recent response times and learned they average an earlier arrival that they are required to have. For priority calls, the goal is to arrive under 10 minutes and 59 seconds. MEDIC averages 8 minutes and 36 seconds. For called they need to respond to in 12 minutes and 59 seconds, the agency averages a 10 minute, 25 second response time. For called that require a 60-minute response, MEDIC averages 32 minutes.

Some already say they have concerns about MEDIC’s response times

In August, Esposito investigated MEDIC’s current response times after two families told her MEDIC didn’t show up. She found out MEDIC diverted ambulances three times while 4-year-old Lea Ordondez was having a seizure at her east Charlotte home.

After that failed call, MEDIC upgraded pediatric seizure calls to a priority.

“It stays in the priority which is where it was upgraded to,” Peterson said.

Esposito also spoke with Patrick Bradley. He hit his head at home and was bleeding on the floor. After 43 minutes of waiting for an ambulance, he canceled and a relative drove him to the hospital. His type of injury gave MEDIC a 60-minute response time.

“Would that type of call with a head injury -- not getting up off the floor -- be bumped up to a 30-minute response?” Esposito asked.

“Yes, he would now move into that 30-minute response,” Peterson said. “These are folks that we don’t want laying on the ground for an hour, so we’ve moved that into a faster response.”

As Esposito reported, a big concern for families was the fact that dispatchers didn’t provide an ETA. When these changes launch next year, dispatchers will have to provide that.

Esposito is working to learn how the changes will impact fire departments across Mecklenburg County.

MEDIC did say the changes aren’t in response to its staffing challenges, but they said it will definitely help balance its overall system.

Right now, MEDIC is short 62 EMTs and paramedics -- the lowest shortage it’s had in the past year. They said two programs are now underway to get more workers, so they expect next year to be better staffing-wise.

(WATCH BELOW: More 911 callers are getting ride-shares after launch of MEDIC initiative)