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Montgomery County paramedics roll out new response system to limit overcrowding ERs

Paramedics said they won't use lights and sirens for patients with certain non-life threatening injuries.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Not every call warrants lights on and sirens blaring, according to Montgomery County paramedics. That's why they're rolling out a new "cold response" system to handle certain non-life threatening injuries.

"Cold response" means EMS will transport clients without lights or sirens, so that drivers don't have to try to pull over to let the ambulance pass.

"We want to protect the public," Lieutenant Paramedic Shantell Brown said. "We want to protect our personnel. We don’t necessarily want to be going down the road with lights and sirens when it very well may not be warranted."

Brown said these less critical patients can now choose to go to an urgent care center or clinic instead of a crowded, often more expensive, emergency room.

It's part of the county's new Alternative Destination Program (ADP), which is a partnership between hospitals and EMS. If a patient chooses not to opt in to the ADP, EMS said they will be taken to a hospital.

The change comes at a good time, because multiple area hospitals said their ERs have been especially busy the past two months, mostly because of the flu.

Holy Cross Health reports that about 30% of their emergency department patients arrive with flu-like symptoms this time of year.

Anyone can monitor how full emergency departments are online. If a hospital sends out a yellow alert, that means it is requesting not to receive any more urgent care patients, because they are filling up. The county can send out a blue alert, which EMS said signifies that all hospitals in the area are full, so paramedics can override other alerts to bring patients to the closest hospital.

Other alerts include red alerts (when cardiac beds are full), re-routes (when EMS decides a hospital is filling up) and mini-disasters.

Based on messages sent out by the spokesperson for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, the county has seen multiple such alerts in the past couple of months.

"We have our finger on the pulse," Brown said. "We are constantly monitoring and managing our system for the betterment of getting people to the right place in an appropriate time fashion."

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