The caller described being in pain, so Brian Dempsey, a call taker, put in the medical code and the system launched.
The next screen on the ProQA system used by Lake County prompted Dempsey to ask what hurt, and the caller described being “sick to my stomach.” Dempsey typed in “abdominal pain” and the screen prompted him to ask the caller if he’s ever been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm.
The caller said no, and clarified that the pain was in his back and leg. Dempsey, in the Crown Point center, was able to put a note in the report saying the caller is experiencing pain in that area.
What appeared to be a routine call to the Lake County E-911 dispatch center is an example of what was problematic in Minneapolis.
In August, the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center decided to no longer use ProQA after a dispatcher resigned after 24 years with the department because “her two decades of experience” told her to ask different questions in a different order, according to local media reports.
“I think that was somebody that just didn’t want to conform,” Swiderski said.
Some Lake County 911 Department employees have expressed that the previous method of asking offender information first makes the most sense, Swiderski said. But, ultimately, the employees have adjusted to using ProQA, and none of the employees have quit their job because of it, he said.
Since about October 2017, the Lake County 911 Department call takers and dispatchers have used ProQA, which is a software that includes protocols and questions for callers to follow after answering an emergency call, Swiderski said.
After asking what happened, the call taker has three options on which emergency department to send out based on the answer: police, fire and medical. Once the call taker puts in the proper code — EPD for police, EMD for medical and EFD for fire — the software opens with an order of questions for the call taker to ask.
The majority of the protocols are similar to what call takers and dispatchers previously used, Swiderski said, showing a manual-style book with color-coded tabs that would guide a call taker on what page to turn to and questions to ask as the caller gives more information about a call.
Since implementing ProQA, first responders are on the scene quicker because the software also gives a “pre alert” to police officers out on the street that a call is coming in at a specific address, Swiderski said.
“They don’t know all of the information on it yet, but as we’re entering the information per the questions of the caller that information is getting put in in sections,” Swiderski said. “That has helped us get to the calls quicker than what we did previously.”
The protocols have its benefits, like allowing the call taker to give the caller instructions on how to properly administer CPR while an ambulance is dispatched to the scene, Swiderski said .
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If the answers to medical questions point to a stroke incident, the call taker is prompted to ask the caller to have the impacted person to smile or lift his or her hand, Swiderski said. The answers to those questions calculates the probability of a stroke, and the call taker can then notify hospital staff that a patient that possibly suffered a stroke is on the way, he said.
But the biggest adjustment to the system is the change in questions, which focus on ensuring the person calling is safe before getting to questions about a possible offender or threat, Swiderski said.
Swiderski said that when he started his career as a dispatcher, he was trained that “the number one” focus of his initial questions was about a potential offender. “With the day and age we have now” the ProQA software start with questions about the caller to make sure he or she is “safe and in a safe place,” he said.
“We have to ensure that that caller is safe first, and sometimes that’s frustrating to them because they’re not used to having those types of questions first,” Swiderski said.
On top of that, after 15 call centers were consolidated in the Lake County 911 Department, call takers and dispatchers are two positions in the center, Swiderski said. Before the consolidation, the call taker and dispatcher were one person, so a caller could hear that emergency crews were on their way, he said.
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“That caller doesn’t hear them sending the help the way that they may have in the past, so they don’t think help is on the way,” Swiderski said. “So we’re trying to do a better job of articulating to them, ‘Listen, I just need to get a little bit more information for our first responders. Somebody else is dispatching this call.’”
Staffing in the department “ebbs and flows,” Swiderski said, with most employees leaving their positions because the “daily grind” and stress of the job “isn’t for everyone.” For some employees, it’s the long hours or shift they are put on, he said.
Currently, the department has 87 employees, Swiderski said. The department has room for 100 positions, so it is currently short staffed, he said.
“It’s a many different factors, unfortunately, as to why the staffing shortage,” Swiderski said. “But if you look throughout the county, it’s an epidemic almost everywhere.”
Using ProQA, Dempsey said, has been good for the Lake County 911 Department because “everyone is on the same page” because the questions asked are the same. The one negative, Dempsey said, is that the system’s police call prompts can be “constrictive,” because not all calls fit a specific category, for example someone calling to complain about how a previous police call was handled.
“But the positives far out way the negatives for me,” Dempsey said.