Funding OK’d for pilot to help EMS ‘super-users’ in GR

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A pilot project aimed at helping “super-users” of Grand Rapids’ emergency services is getting financial support.

On Wednesday, the Downtown Development Authority approved $33,425 to help pay for professional planning for Dwelling Place’s Frequent User Systems Engagement, also known as FUSE.

The pilot program is centered around an issue Target 8 examined a year ago with the help of the Grand Rapids Fire Department. The GRFD identified 15 “super-users” of EMS in the city’s Heartside neighborhood who were responsible for 305 EMS calls in 2017, costing between $930 and $2,140 per call.

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“It’s very, very expensive to pull this off — I mean, the cost associated with doing nothing, I should say,” said Dwelling Place CEO Denny Sturtevant, who pitched FUSE Wednesday.

Sturtevant said the first step of the program would be identifying the people who prompt most calls for police, firefighters and medical first responders using data from those groups and support from the Department of Health and Human Services.

“What we’re trying to do is look at a way to move the needle on these top 25 to 50 downtown folks that spend a lot of community resources,” said Sturtevant.

The program would then focus on providing wraparound services for those super-users, with a top priority of finding them permanent housing. Sturtevant says those people would be prioritized for three Dwelling Place housing projects in the Heartside neighborhood.

“If they’re housed, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to go to the emergency room, but it means that the cost and the time and the number of times they use those resources is going to drop dramatically,” Sturtevant said.

The plan would include visiting health care services for super-users, who typically have untreated mental illness and substance abuse issues.

“Many of them will not make the 9 a.m. Monday morning appointment at Cherry Health or Mercy Health or whatever. …We’re going to have to figure out a way to fund those resources as part of this program so that there actually are on-site services with folks actually visiting and meeting with these people,” said Sturtevant.

He said first responders and hospitals are supportive of the proposal, with representatives from Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Spectrum Health and Cherry Street Health attending every meeting so far.

“Those folks see the impact of not doing anything. They see it in their emergency rooms, they see it in expensive costs, unreimbursed costs that they incur,” Sturtevant said. “Everybody’s got something to gain.”

Sturtevant says the super-user issue has a trickle-down effect, which is why the proposal was presented to the DDA.

“It also has a huge drag on economic development. If you’re constantly picking people up out of doorways, cleaning up urine, all that sort of thing, it has a huge impact,” he explained.

“This is a detriment to retailers,” DDA Vice Chair Rick Winn said.

“And I think we should do it. It’s one of those things, if we don’t help, how is this going to be piloted,” he added.

“I think it’s a worthwhile, really important… If we’re not a part of trying to solve the homelessness problem in this city, well, I think we need to be a part of it,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said.

DDA board member Diana Sieger echoed their sentiments.

“It’s really worth the time, money and effort to move forward on this,” she said.

Sturtevant says they’re looking into state and grant funding to support FUSE. He says 20 to 30 cities nationwide have already rolled out a version of the program.

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