LA program seeks to reduce ER visits with 'sober center'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In an effort to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, the Los Angeles Fire Department launched a pilot program that transports publicly intoxicated people to a sober center located on skid row in downtown, according to a report.

The Sobriety Emergency Response — or SOBER — Unit includes an ambulance crew with an emergency medical technician, nurse practitioner and addiction case worker, the Los Angeles Times said Sunday. The one-year pilot program has been in operation since November.

Officials hope to reduce the number of times that so-called "super-users" of the 911 system require visits to the emergency room. About 40 of these callers are experiencing the chronic effects of drug and alcohol abuse and are responsible for about 2,000 emergency calls a year, according to an LAFD analysis obtained by the Times.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who attended a news conference last week on the pilot program, said that firefighters who transport an inebriated person to a hospital emergency room can spend up to six hours waiting for the individual to be admitted.

"That's six hours that an EMT isn't responding to other calls of other Angelenos," Garcetti said.

Under the program, if an individual who is the subject of a 911 call meets certain criteria, the SOBER Unit ambulance will transport that person to the sobering center on skid row. The center, which opened last year, offers detox services and has the capacity to house about 50 people. The center's mission is to reduce incarcerations and help people find treatment programs.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas told the newspaper that about 100 people have been transported by the unit to the center since it launched, with the unit averaging about four people a day. Nearly everyone transported was homeless, he said. The unit, which operates from Tuesday to Friday, is primarily focused on downtown, but can respond to calls in Hollywood and South Los Angeles.

The fire department gets more than 1,300 emergency calls a day, with the majority of the calls for medical service, Terrazas said.


Information from: Los Angeles Times,

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Photo: Getty Images

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