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LA County 911 System Overwhelmed By Unnecessary Calls

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Emergency dispatchers in L.A. County take approximately one 911 call every minute of every day. But officials complain that they’re being overwhelmed by unnecessary calls.

According to the L.A. County Fire Department, whose paramedics answer 911 calls, nearly two-thirds of all calls are “bogus”.

During one 911 call a man told an emergency dispatcher that his “mother” was not breathing and wouldn’t get off the floor. Paramedics arrived to find that the man was referring to the motherboard of his laptop computer. That caller was not charged with a crime because he suffered from mental issues.

In fact, there are no laws that make it a crime to dial 911 in a non-emergency situation. Officials say the problem is that many people confuse those situations with emergencies.

“It’s what I would characterize as people with no other options. You know, if you don’t have money and you need health care of some sort, and if you only have one option you use that option — and that’s the 911 system,” said Deputy Chief Mike Metro, of the L.A. County Fire Department. “Unfortunately, we’re obligated, once we show up, we’re obligated to provide only a single portal of medical services, and that’s to put the individual on the back of a very expensive ambulance and to take them to a very expensive emergency room.”

And when the patient insists there’s something wrong the paramedics have no choice but to take them to the hospital.

Some examples at the fire station in Wilmington: There was a case of a baby in distress when all it turned out to be was that the baby wouldn’t stop crying. There was another 911 call where a man was reported unresponsive when he, actually, was passed out from drinking alcohol.

“If you have no insurance you can’t go to a clinic to begin with so what option do you have,” said Metro, explaining that many times people call to get a free ride to an emergency room.

“We need to provide other options,” the fire chief said.

The County would like to set up special clinics at fire houses so that people can get medical attention for non-emergency situations. They said they hope that will divert those calls away from the 911 line.

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