Increase in mental health calls present challenges for Sanford Ambulance paramedics

At a presentation during the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday, March 20, it was revealed that behavioral and psychiatric episodes were the top calls for Sanford Ambulance in 2022.

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Paramedics get equipment ready near the Ambulance's at Sanford Ambulance in Fargo.
Finn Harrison / WDAY News

FARGO — Mental health calls have always presented challenging scenarios for paramedics.

Now, they are responding to them far more often as was outlined in Sanford Ambulance's annual report to the Fargo City Commission on Monday, March 20. According to the report, behavioral and psychiatric episodes were their most common call for an ambulance in 2022, followed by alcohol-related calls.

Tim Meyer, Sanford Health senior director of emergency operations, said there are a number of reasons why these calls are challenging.

"They're not straightforward, not always somebody that needs to go to the hospital, to the emergency room. So it takes some detective work to figure out exactly what the appropriate resource is for that patient," Meyer said.

If it's determined the hospital isn't necessary, one of the resources they frequently take patients to is Prairie St. John's, who have also noted an increased demand, according to clinical services director Jeana Scheffler.


"I think part of the reason why people are calling more often is because they know that help is there. They know that there's resources and people, and facilities like ours that can treat them and get them back home. In years past or decades past maybe people felt like it was hopeless," Scheffler said.

Responding to behavioral health calls also takes up a lot of time for paramedics. According to Sanford Ambulance communications manager Don Martin, responding to a heart attack takes roughly 20 minutes. For mental health calls, the response can take one to three hours.

Meyer said this is due to waiting for third-party help and patient behavior.

"There can be distracting things with mental health issues. The patients can be unpredictable or dangerous," Meyer said.

Scheffler said increasing awareness of preventative mental health services, especially outpatient programs, could be one way to get these calls back down the list.

If you or a loved one are in a mental health crisis, you can call the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988. Or for immediate, emergency assistance call 911.

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