If you call 911 in Fresno, you'd better have a good reason for it. So-called "frequent flyers" — citizens who call for ambulance rides several times each year — can be placed on a "no-fly list" by the Central California EMS.
What are the details?
Central California EMS director Dan Lynch explained to KPIX-TV that his agency has cracked down on citizens who regularly call for unnecessary trips to the emergency room.
"Not only are they abusing the ambulance service, they are abusing the hospital system," Lynch said. "We'll go check them out, but if they can sit up by themselves or walk, then they are on their own and the ambulance will not transport those patients."
But the "no-fly" list is reserved for only the worst offenders; there are currently 16 people who have been suspended.
In October, Alameda County sent KPIX a list of the top "frequent flyers," which showed that over a two-year period, 25 people called 911 a collective total of 4,291 times.
Oftentimes, KPIX reported, those who abuse the system are homeless and seeking a ride to the hospital to get some free food. Alcohol, drug and medication addicts, and the mentally ill are also cited as "frequent users" who would be better served by other services in non-emergencies.
Frequent flyers are an issue for emergency services across the country, not just in California. Chief John Redden of Millville Rescue squad in Cumberland County New Jersey explained to NJ.com, "There's some perception that there's less wait at the hospital if you come in on a stretcher. Nobody wants to drive themselves to the emergency room and wait for hours."
But unnecessary trips tie up valuable EMS resources from citizens with true emergencies.
"If they misuse the service, they could be putting the well-being of someone else at risk," Redden added.
The Associated Press reported that some folks in Syracuse, New York, have even used ambulances as little more than a cab service when they needed a ride or were simply lonely.
Besides using up the valuable time of first responders, frequent flyers cost taxpayers millions in many cities. Medicaid picks up the bill for some patients, while others rack up unpaid tabs on the county or municipal dime.