Kari Dawson is a new addition to the Las Vegas fire communications center, but her role is different from the rest of the call-takers whose voices fill the room.
"Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, this is Kari, I'm a registered nurse," she says into her headset, pausing to listen to a caller. "I'm going to ask you some questions to make sure we get you the right kind of help."
Dawson is one of eight RNs staffing a new nurse call line in Las Vegas, where some of the less severe medical calls are routed. The pilot program kicked off in July with a $300,000 budget for training and pay for nurses who work one day a week.
Dawson, who also is a pediatric emergency room nurse at Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center in Las Vegas, said her work entails visualizing what a caller is describing.
"We use our knowledge of how to treat these things in the ER," Dawson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I can't see what it looks like. If you walk into the ER, I can tell that's definitely broken, it looks broken, it's not broken. You have to rely on what they're telling you."
The program could help lower costs by preventing an unnecessary trip to the ER. Results will be assessed when the pilot money runs out and the city council could make it permanent.
One nurse is on duty from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The number of calls varies, but Dawson estimates she averages five or six a day.
Similar programs, typically referred to as "nurse triage," have been used for more than a decade in other cities. In Reno, Nev., for example, the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority lets Washoe County residents to call its nurse health line directly.
Las Vegas Fire Chief Willie McDonald said he envisions a similar service there.
About two-thirds of the roughly 600,000 calls per year to Las Vegas fire dispatch are medical calls. Ones deemed least serious can be transferred to the nurse call line.
Certain thresholds are in place: Callers complaining of chest pain aren't routed to the nurse call line. Callers with minor injuries might not be transferred if they have potentially more serious risk factors.
A software program guides the nurse through a protocol prompting new questions based on the sick or injured person's answers. The program also creates patient logs, so if someone calls a second time, their medical information and previous call record can be seen.
Dawson said many calls she gets involve people without a primary-care physician who might not be aware of treatment options in less-acute medical situations.
If a patient needs medical care but not necessarily an ambulance, the nurse can order a ride-share service to get them to a hospital or an urgent-care facility. If the caller insists on an ambulance or is uncomfortable with a ride-share, Dawson said the nurse on duty won't try to deter them.