TRAA may merge call center with city-county dispatch

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Earlier this year, Allen County and Fort Wayne consolidated their 911 call centers. Their new home takes up an entire floor of the Rousseau Center in downtown Fort Wayne.

Now, there’s talk of possibly combining that center with the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority, or TRAA. It’s up to the ambulance service’s board to make that decision.

Gary Booher is the executive director of TRAA. It’s a title he’s held for the last 27 years. While there’s no immediate push to consolidate, Booher said it’s a move the board is currently considering. He said the board is looking at all its options and not taking the decision lightly.

“They’re taking their time, they’re not dragging their feet, but they are being very methodical about it to try and find out what all the costs involved are and what all the issues potentially could be. There are some TRAA board members who really think we should move. There are some who don’t think we should move, and don’t think it’s necessarily worth the cost at this point. Then, there are some that are just kind of in the middle waiting, still trying to decide. So, the board is still trying to make the right decision for the community,” Booher said.

TRAA is the city’s only ambulance service. It’s paid for 100 percent by fees from ambulance users. If the board decides to move, TRAA would join city and county police and fire dispatchers in the sixth floor of the Rousseau Center. The two groups merged their call centers back in February. The entire project cost $17.5 million, and houses some of the best technology in the country. The goals in combining the city and county dispatch offices were to increase communication, streamline calls, and decrease response time.

“Certainly, there are some positives to being with the dispatch center downtown, but from our contractors’ standpoint, they see some issues as well and we’re just trying to sort through all that to make sure that we don’t do something that down the road we say oops, we didn’t think of that,” Booher said.

TRAA said every detail must be taken into account to match its current efficiency.

“Can we do that regardless of location…sure we can, but there are many items we have to look at and that. It’s not just a dispatch center. We actually operate a complete control center for movement and placement of ambulances in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible,” Booher said.

That includes items like the placement of the office furniture.

““Even the cubicle placement works to make us efficient. This is an outward placement of cubicles which makes you think it’s not an efficient model because their backs are to each other, but that’s really not the case. This is the most efficient model we can have because while one controller is actually taking the phone call, another controller can either look over their shoulder or slide their chair over real quick to get the basic information that the first controller is taking in and start an ambulance right away. So, while some people may get frustrated and say just send me an ambulance, quit asking me all these questions, what they don’t realize is someone else in the background has already dispatched that ambulance and that ambulance is on the way,” Booher said.

The controllers also work together to arrange the ambulance fleet in a way that makes the most sense at the given time of day and week.

“While one of the controllers is taking a call in and the other is dispatching an ambulance or sending that ambulance, they’re also looking at the available units that are out there and repositioning those around the community to get the best coverage for where the anticipated next call volume is likely to be high. We use the number of units that we feel are appropriate to meet the need at the time, not necessarily a static number 24 hours a day. It’s almost a ballet going on at the same time and trying to make sure that the entire system works efficiently and flawlessly for the community,” Booher said.

TRAA said cost is also a factor, but not the most important one.

“Our goal is to literally do what’s best for the patient and do it not only what’s best for them in their health care, but we’re also looking out for what’s the best for them  in their bill and what can  we do to help keep the bills as low as possible. Keeping the patients’ health care is number one. We deal in lives every day as an ambulance service, so this isn’t just a matter of finances by any means. We are trying to make the right decision to make sure that lives are not lost or that people don’t suffer because of the decision we make. We really are looking out for the patient, the community, and trying to do the best we can to save every life we can,” Booher said.

The board hopes to make a decision by the end of the year.

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