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Portland Fire announces launch of new community health program to tackle 911 calls

The program, called CHAT, is designed to provide care to people who call 911 for non-emergency health issues and do not need immediate hospital care.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) announced a new community health program on Wednesday to help people who call 911 for medical issues that do not require emergency care.

The Community Health Assess and Treat program, also know as CHAT, will be made up of firefighter EMTs and other medical professionals in downtown and Southeast Portland. They will provide one-on-one care and will connect people to healthcare resources for the future.

PF&R Chief Sara Boone said the goal of the program is to better serve the city's most vulnerable people while reducing the number of people going to hospitals and emergency rooms. Dispatchers often receive calls from people experiencing headaches, stomachaches and back pain. Those calls can clog up important emergency resources.

During a news conference, Boone called the situation a "humanitarian disaster" and said the current system does not meet the needs of the local community. 

"Our agency has seen a dramatic increase in calls to 911 over the last five years because a portion of our community members are unsure how to access healthcare services and making 911 their only option," said Boone. 

PF&R expects to launch the program in mid-November. The nonprofit healthcare provider CareOregon is funding the first phase of the program through a nearly $2.5 million grant. According to the nonprofit, almost one quarter of its members that visit emergency rooms do not need them in the first place.

"So when you think about the ability to intervene with those folks and give them the right care at the right time, that helps out with the resources [like] transportation and overworked emergency rooms," said Eric C. Hunter, the CEO of CareOregon.