Hollywood charging for ambulance calls that result in treatment but no transport

City charging residents $160 after increasing non-emergency calls

By Jeff Weinsier - Investigative Reporter

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Would you dial 911 for a cut finger, menstrual cramps, a cough or shampoo in your eyes? One South Florida municipality has had enough.

The city of Hollywood is now charging people who call for an ambulance and are treated but not taken to a hospital.

Hollywood residents will be charged $160, while non-residents will be charged $200.

"The types of calls and the amount of calls that really don't require a 911 response are increasing," Hollywood Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Chris Del Campo said.

Many are using 911 as their primary means of health care.

Calls for service in Hollywood gone from 15,000 in 1998 to more than 30,000 last year. Hollywood only has eight rescue units.

Paramedics said 70 percent of their calls are non-emergencies. By law, they have to respond.

"They don't want to have to go to the doctor. They don't want to go to the emergency room sometimes," Lt. Diana DeAbreu said.

Hundreds and thousands of tax dollars are being wasted by people who dial 911 for the smallest issues.

When there's a true emergency, will paramedics be tied up on one of those minor calls and unable to get to a real emergency in time?

"We run out of rescues a lot," Anthony Vera, secretary for the Hollywood Professional Firefighters, said. "There have been instances where there have been heart attacks and strokes, and we are tied up on these calls."

Hollywood will either send a fire engine or another city will send a rescue into Hollywood, if available.

Hollywood is trying to recoup some of the cost to run rescue and estimates the "treat, no transport" fee will generate $400,000 a year.

"Many call just to be checked out," Del Campo said. "We treat you, do an EKG. We do glucose. We check your heart. We do blood pressures. We apply a bandage. All these things cost money."

Cities like Plantation charge a $50 "civilian assist fee" for non-emergency calls, but most fire-rescue departments don't charge for treatment.

Some call it a tax on the poor and claim collecting from those who abuse the system is usually impossible.

 Before Hollywood set this new fee, there was debate in the commission chamber.

"It is double-taxing the taxpayers, the residents of the city of Hollywood," Commissioner Peter Hernandez said. "They fund the fire department to start with."

"It's an expense and it needs to be recovered," Commissioner Dick Blattner said.

"This is not a double tax because we don't use the fire fee for these types of services," Mayor Peter Bober said.

Del Campo said the city is not discouraging people from dialing 911.

"You have to have a little bit of common sense," he said.

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