Communities would be able to reduce non-urgent 911 calls, avoiding unnecessary but costly 911 trips and freeing up responders to get to real emergencies, under legislation sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood.

Liias’ Senate Bill 5591, heard today by the Senate Government Operations & Security Committee, would enable fire departments or providers of emergency medical services to develop education and referral programs that steer non-urgent callers to more appropriate health care providers, low-cost medication programs and social services.

“Calling 911 should be a last resort, not a first resort, but many people call 911 because they have nowhere else to turn for help,” Liias said. “Our local fire district has found an innovative model that solves problems at lower cost. This will free up our responders to get to the people who really need their help.”

The legislation would also allow fire departments and providers of emergency services to seek grants and private gifts to fund the education and referral program. Participating groups would be required to measure any reduction in repeat 911 calls and avoidable emergency room trips, including estimations of Medicaid dollars that would have been spent on unnecessary emergency without the program.

“This practice will not only stretch our emergency services dollars, it will get people exactly the kind of attention they need in the first place,” Liias said.