Trend to drive, rather than dial can be costly

Published 7:09 pm Friday, July 29, 2016

From a very young age, most are taught to call 911 only in the case of emergency. But according to Vic Williams, people aren’t dialing those lifesaving numbers enough.

Williams is Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Director of Communications & 911 Services, and in recent months, he’s seen a rising trend to drive those experiencing true emergencies to a hospital or urgent care center rather than call 911. It’s a trend that can ultimately cost many patients, he said.

It’s referred to as the “Golden Hour:” the first hour after the occurrence of a traumatic injury, and it’s considered the most critical for successful emergency treatment. In the rush to get treatment, however, people are not waiting for paramedics to arrive, Williams said, and are instead taking their loved ones or friends to places that, depending on the emergency, might not be able to treat them at all.

“These places are not emergency rooms. The doctors there end up calling 911,” Williams said. “A lot of cases, EMS ends up picking them up in the parking lot. They can’t treat them there. … If you’re having a cardiac issue, more than likely, you’ll end up in Greenville.”

While speeding a trauma, cardiac or stroke patient to a medical provider may seem like the most appropriate way to get treatment quickly, Williams said critical minutes are lost when doctors or nurses at those facilities must call 911, then wait as an EMS squad is dispatched and arrives.

“Most people that are going out are (having) chest pains or stroke symptoms,” said Crystal Marriner, a telecommunications supervisor with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office e-911 Call Center. “(You’re) better off staying in the comfort of your home and let us come to you.”

In the past year, EMS squads, along with the advent of Beaufort County EMS, have made paramedic-level service available across the county. In January, the e-911 call center put Emergency Medical Dispatch in place, a protocol allowing telecommunicators to walk 911 callers through life-saving measures to help keep a patient stable until paramedics arrive on scene.

“The times have changed. We’ve got paramedics. With the paramedics and the equipment they have on board, it’s like we’re bringing the emergency room to you,” Williams said. “There are more than we can count now — the number of medical calls that come into the 911-center — that would not be here today if they hadn’t called 911. We’re not even a year into (EMD) and it’s paid for itself so many times, we can’t even keep count.”

While some do make inappropriate use of the 911-system, calling in non-emergencies that should be directed to urgent care centers, those who’ve lost consciousness, have broken bones, or are suffering from cardiac arrest or stroke symptoms, should always call 911, according to Williams.

Those driving at excessive speeds to get a critically ill person to treatment also run another risk: that of injury themselves and others in an accident, Williams said.

“If you have what you deem as a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Let your loved one rest where they’re at, follow the instructions of the dispatchers on the phone and wait for EMS to arrive,” Williams said. 

When to call 911

Not for stubbed toes or stomachaches, the following list contains symptoms and situations for which Beaufort County residents should always call 911.

  • Severe difficulty breathing, especially that does not improve with rest
  • Chest pain
  • A fast heartbeat (more than 120-150) at rest, especially if associated with shortness of breath or feeling faint
  • You witness someone faint/pass out or someone is unresponsive (comatose)
  • Difficulty speaking, numbness or weakness of any part of the body
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness or mental changes (confusion, very odd behavior, difficulty walking)
  • Sudden blindness or vision changes
  • Heavy bleeding from your mouth, nose, vagina or bottom
  • Bleeding from any wound that won’t stop with direct pressure
  • Broken bones visible through an open wound or a broken leg
  • Drowning
  • Choking
  • Severe burns
  • Allergic reaction, especially if there is any difficulty breathing
  • Extremely hot or cold
  • Poisoning or drug overdose
  • New severe headache
  • Sudden intense severe pain
  • Someone is threatening to hurt or kill him or herself or someone else