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Sask. ambulance service asks 'cellphone savers' to curb drive-by calls

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Medavie Health Services West wants people in Saskatoon to stop and check in on people who they believe may need medical help before calling 911.

The ambulance service is seeing a sharp rise in "man down" calls for service in recent weeks. Often times when paramedics arrive, a person is laying down or sleeping and isn't in need of medical attention.

"I would call them cellphone savers," said Troy Davies, Medavie's director of public affairs.

"People are good Samaritans and they're thinking when they see somebody lying in a park or maybe lying on the sidewalk that they need help. A lot of times we get there and we're being told that the patient doesn't want an ambulance and doesn't know why we were called."

Davies said Medavie responded to 600 of these call types last year.

With resources stretched thin in recent years under increasing call volumes, Davies is looking to eliminate the number of false calls so paramedics can respond to actual emergencies in a timely manner.

Davies said the best way to avoid this issue is to stop and check in on the person, since many of the calls are coming from drivers who drove by and didn't bother to get out of their vehicles and assess the situation.

"If you take that extra two minutes just to pull over and yell at the patient and say, 'do you need help?' Davies said.

"We don't recommend going to go shake somebody and alarm them and put yourself in harm's way."

Safety is a priority for Shirley Isbister and her staff at Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI). With a section of greenspace surrounding its office on Avenue M in Saskatoon, staff are used to homeless people taking a rest or spending time in the park.

As Saskatoon's homeless population continues to grow, staff are calling police and paramedics with more regularity and administering Naloxone for people experiencing a drug overdose.

"The challenge that we face in the neighborhood is that when you find people laying like that you're not sure what's happening with them," said Isbister, the president of CUMFI.

"You can't approach them because, you know, there might be a weapon, you might scare them, they might jump up at you."

Isbister said while your concern is with a person who may be laying there motionless, personal safety is a top priority because you never know how someone could react.

"It's a huge hesitation," she said. "Yes, your reaction is not to go right up to them because you just don't know what's going to happen."

Medavie had over 40,000 calls for service in 2023, which Davies says makes it one of the busiest services in western Canada for calls per capita. Any help to avoid disruptions and free up paramedics for emergencies goes a long way.

"We don't want to stop somebody from calling us," Davies said. "But at the same time, you know, take that extra two seconds to maybe pull over and see if they actually need help."

With warm weather settling in for the rest of spring and summer, Davies said more people will be out, sleeping and hanging around in parks, on benches or on sidewalks in the city and "rather than jumping to conclusions," Davies says to take some time to make sure it's not a life and death scenario.  

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