Gary EMS call volume has not mirrored population drop

2013-05-03T00:00:00Z 2013-05-03T23:17:06Z Gary EMS call volume has not mirrored population dropVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

GARY | A graduate-level student project mapping emergency medical service response in Gary shows the volume of calls are down slightly but not to the same degree as the city's population drop, driving the rate up.

Joseph Ferrandino, an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Northwest, said students took data he collected from 2002 through 2011, converted it into information and mapped it.

The rate for the top 20 EMS calls, such as breathing problems, cardiac issues, gun shots, diabetes issues and stabbings, increased to 10,722 per 100,000 residents in 2011 from 9,604 per 100,000 residents in 2002, Ferrandino said.

Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett said the department's allocation of resources is determined by a number of factors, not all of which were assessed by the students' report.

"Population is only one factor to be considered," she said.

The students' mapping shows clusters of the city that are not as well covered and other areas that have more coverage than needed, Ferrandino said.

Everett said the department continually makes appropriate changes in its deployment and service delivery based on its resources. It is in the process of hiring additional paramedics to increase service capability.

Ferrandino, who voluntarily gathers and analyzes data for seven local departments, said he and his students presented the findings to officials but do not advise them on policy.

"We don't really tell the city what to do," he said. "We provide the evidence they need to make decisions. Some of the departments have an idea but aren't able to turn it into something people can look at and see."

Officials can use the information for resource allocation, budgeting and creating necessary policies.

Everett said the department is appreciative of Ferrandino and his students for their presentation and support of Gary's EMS and fire services. 

"We will use the findings to assist in operational and guideline changes where applicable," she said.

Students made bar charts, frequency tables, calculations and line graphs to show changes over time for the 20 most frequent EMS and Fire Department calls. They also analyzed where the stations are located and drew buffers to show which neighborhoods are underserved or overserved.

The analysis was done for a course called Statistical Analysis for Effective Decision Making, the second of two statistics classes Ferrandino teaches as part of the graduate program.

Everett said the students' presentation was helpful to capture what the city was experiencing, and it was great to have outside validation of the department's operations, successes and challenges.

Although the mapping was a student research project, Ferrandino oversees and checks the work.

"It's a collaborative process," he said. "They work with the professor to produce the results."

Ferrandino regularly gathers and analyzes data for seven local agencies, including the Gary Fire Department.

"Without them opening up their data as an organization and trying to improve, there wouldn't be much impetus for any kind of change," he said.

The city's aging population is increasingly unhealthy and leans more on Gary's emergency services, according to the data. And, non-residents traveling highways through the city and visiting the casino also rely on services, Ferrandino said.

The data show 10 locations that made up 8.2 percent of all EMS calls to the city during the 10 years, out of about 30,000 locations they responded to, Ferrandino said.

"The whole idea is to reduce the (number) of people who call over and over," he said.

One address made 72 EMS calls over nine months for diabetes problems. Safety officials can identify such repeat callers and schedule a home visit to determine ways to reduce the volume of EMS calls, Ferrandino said.

Everett said the department is exploring the possibility of partnering with other agencies and implementing programs to provide intervention and follow-up services to repeat callers. 

"The repeat calls may not necessarily be associated with a medical reason we can address or may be more of a social services-related issue," she said.

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