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911 callers could recieve care regardless of insurance under Spokane’s new program

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(The Center Square) – Spokane is expanding access to medical services across the city under a new program that starts Tuesday, ensuring the appropriate level of response in the event of a 911 call.

The Spokane Nurse Navigation program will culminate through a partnership with the Spokane Fire Department, Spokane Regional Emergency Communications, or SREC, the emergency dispatch service used by much of the county, and American Medical Response, or AMR.

Under the program, SREC will transfer non-emergency calls to a “Nurse Navigator,” who’s responsible for determining the best path forward while coordinating that care as well. According to a news release, the new avenue will likely help individuals who need an immediate referral without burdening them with extra costs associated with bypassing their primary care provider.

“Through this new partnership with AMR, [SREC] Officers will now have [the] capability to transfer thousands of calls annually to the Nurse Navigation [program],” Fire Chief Julie O’Berg wrote in the release. “This program allows us to better serve our community by more appropriately triaging the needs of some of our 911 utilizers.”

The program is intended to help free up local emergency rooms by rerouting patients to the appropriate care rather than transporting them to a hospital with an ambulance. O’Berg said this could include self-treatment, local clinics, urgent care facilities and virtual appointments.

After connecting a caller with a local clinic, Nurse Navigators can also coordinate transportation to and from an appointment. According to the release, they could even link the caller directly to a telehealth provider who can prescribe medications without the patient leaving home.

“We are excited to offer this solution to our Spokane community through our partnership with the [SFD] and [SREC],” AMR Operations Manager Jake Busch wrote in the release. “Adding this tool to our system will help to ensure we are getting the right resource to the right patients at the right time to meet the care needs of all.”

The new program will extend to all callers, regardless of medical insurance; however, according to the release, it will not impact those calling for life-threatening emergencies.

Although, it’s unclear at this point what could happen to the new program if Spokane vacates its agreement with SREC at the end of the summer.

Mayor Lisa Brown has until August 24 to confirm whether the city would fully commit to the service agreement or fund its own dispatch center. Currently, SREC provides dispatch services to the SFD but transfers law enforcement calls within city limits to the Spokane Police Department’s dispatcher. SREC wants both agencies to participate or leave altogether.

However, local leaders are still determining how to proceed as Spokane grapples with a $50 million structural deficit. SREC member fees increased almost twice as much as the city had anticipated; meanwhile, Spokane lacks enough seats on the board to make changes despite constituting over 50% of all fire-related calls.

If SPD joined SREC, its share of calls would also likely exceed more than 50% of all calls pertaining to law enforcement.

Despite the reality of the current relationship, Lori Markham, SREC’s executive director, rang out in support of the new program on Monday.

“We are excited to support the City of Spokane with the launch of the Nurse Navigation Program,” Markham wrote in the release. “Embracing innovation and collaboration with our partners allows us to better serve the Spokane community.”

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