Aurora now pairing some 911 callers with nurses to help cut down on ambulance trips, wait times


AURORA | Aurora911 has a new resource to improve wait times and assist people calling for help with medical problems that don’t require treatment by paramedics or hospital physicians.

Between Oct. 5, when the agency’s Nurse Navigator Program launched, and Nov. 2, when the city’s shared data about the program, licensed nurses with Global Medical Response helped 203 people whose calls were forwarded to them by 911 dispatchers.

Nurses have helped set up remote visits with board-certified emergency physicians and appointments with local health care providers for patients as young as infants and as old as 96 years, according to the city. They’re also able to give health advice and arrange transport without an ambulance to and from non-emergency medical care.

In a news release, city staff said the program, for which translation services are also available for non-English-speaking callers, is designed to save time and money for callers as well as keep dispatchers and ambulances from responding to situations that aren’t true emergencies.

“The Aurora911 Nurse Navigation program ensures people with non-emergency health concerns are diverted to the care they need,” Aurora911 director Tina Buneta said in the release. “It also frees first responders to better address high-priority calls and supports our mission to get the right resources to the right place at the right (time), for everyone, every time.”

As staffing has fallen at Aurora’s emergency communications agency, the city has at times struggled to keep up with the volume of incoming 911 calls. Last year, 435 of the calls received by the agency took more than 2 minutes to answer, according to reporting by Channel 4 News.

Information provided this week to a council subcommittee indicates that 21 entry-level positions are currently unfilled at Aurora911, for a total staffing percentage of 80.2%.

The National Emergency Number Association recommends that 90% of 911 calls be answered by an operator within 15 seconds and 95% within 20 seconds. City spokesman Michael Brannen wrote in an email that, in 2022, it has taken an average of 10.56 seconds for operators to answer a 911 call, with about 80% being answered within 15 seconds and 85% within 20 seconds.

“We expect to see that number increase over time through the influence of this program, as 9-1-1 professionals will not need to remain on the line with low-acuity callers to provide additional instructions until EMS is on scene,” Brannen wrote.

“This will have a positive impact on our bandwidth to answer incoming calls in a shorter timeframe, and decrease the total average duration of calls over time, as we increase the types of low-acuity medical calls which qualify for nurse triaging.”

In addition to the Nurse Navigator Program, first responders in Aurora have other resources — such as the Crisis Response Team, which pairs police officers with mental health clinicians to de-escalate situations involving a suspect experiencing mental health problems — meant to reduce stress on the city’s emergency response system.

Brannen said Aurora911 program was not “intended to deal with mental health issues, but nurses are capable of handling those calls, and the “vast majority” of mental health problems contributing to incidents are not known to 911 operators or to the third-parties making the call.

The program has only dealt with one call involving overlapping physical and mental health problems, Brannen said. The nurse referred a person to Aurora Mental Health Center.

“For calls which involve any form of immediate safety concern, or are connected with suspicious behavior or crime, or are reported by a third party who does not (have) any personal knowledge about the person they are reporting, those calls would not qualify for Nurse Navigation and would be more suited for other programs connected with police response,” Brannen said.

The program is currently funded through the state’s Nurses in 911 Pilot Grant Program. Aurora joins other cities such as Boulder, Longmont and Pueblo as recipients of the grant.

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