Non-emergency 911 Calls Highlight Aging in Place Struggles

An influx of non-emergency 911 calls across the state of Tennessee is straining the resources of area first-responders, showing that there’s progress to be made in terms of allowing more seniors to age in place.

According to a report in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tennessee State Rep. Mike Carter (R) says he wants to help find and implement long-term solutions to the high volume of non-emergency 911 calls from Tennessee residents who are either aging, disabled or both, but immediate solutions are also required, particularly in rural communities. He made these comments at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council’s senior health and aging committee’s monthly meeting on Wednesday.

The path toward reaching the goal of allowing more people to age in place is impeded by seniors and disabled individuals living in homes that make accessing basic needs like food, water or bathrooms difficult for those with limited mobility, according to Capt. Skyler Phillips, Emergency Medical Services coordinator at the Chattanooga Fire Department.

“The goal is to age in place,” said Capt. Phillips at the committee meeting. “That’s what we want to happen, if we can help them do that. But we can’t have them aging in place when they’re falling every day, when they can’t get water, when they can’t get food.”

Beginning later this month, the Chattanooga Fire Department plans to host social work interns from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, directing them to contact frequent 911 callers in order to determine their needs and guide them to relevant resources that may help them reduce the need for calling emergency services. Committee members lauded the idea, saying it could potentially be replicated in other parts of the state.

Rep. Carter praised the idea as well, but added that rural departments need more immediate relief, particularly in the case of volunteer fire departments.

“They’re having the same nightmare,” Carter said. “They’re all volunteers that have very little money. They’re worried about their gas budget, and when they’re burning fuel going out to get remote controls out of chairs, they’re really hurting.”

A desire to age in place is among one of the top reasons that borrowers employ a reverse mortgage product, though a senior remaining in a home that is too big to safely maneuver around in or that has multiple floors can often lead to preventable injury.

Recent developments in the Medicare Advantage program may allow it to cover non-medical expenses like home modification, allowing more seniors to make additions like grab bars or non-slip bathroom mats that can help to prevent falls or other injuries.

That doesn’t mean that seniors can necessarily stay in their homes permanently, but that goal could become easier to achieve because of advances in technology, the creation of more programs that can allow for professional home modification, and adequate caregiving. This is according to Dr. Jon Pynoos, professor of gerontology, policy and planning at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

“If a place is designed such as to make it feasible for [seniors] to, with some assistance, carry out tasks, I think we’re going to be seeing an increasing amount of [aging in place] happening,” Pynoos told RMD in May.

Read the original story at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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