Thursday, September 28, 2023

‘Dignity’: James City County aims to reduce repeat 911 calls for lift assists with this partnership

James City County fire stations 2 and 5 will have its HVAC systems updated. (Kirsten Petersen/WYDaily)
(WYDaily/File photo)

When James City County Fire Chief Ryan Ashe responded to his first home visit for a resident who called 911 for a mobility-related issue, he wanted to make sure his message was clear.

Sure, Ashe said, the man likely needed more help from Social Services or a caretaker to avoid needing to call in the first place — but when a 911 call comes in, fire-rescue always responds.

“My biggest fear was he’d take away ‘Don’t call me’ again,” Ashe said. “That call could’ve been different or avoided… but I didn’t want him to think he couldn’t call us again.”

As emergency calls for falls and other mobility-related issues see a slow uptick in James City County, fire and police are working to better-define which are real emergencies, and which could be avoided by a simple referral to county Social Services.

Since 2017, county Social Services, the fire department and police have been collaborating to develop a program that refers residents to Social Services.

The result is called Community Outreach Network Education Care Thrive, or CONECT.

So, instead of a resident being a “loyal customer” and calling 911 25 to 30 times a year when they need help getting around — but aren’t injured — Social Services provides help that will prevent that person from needing to use the phone.

“It’s a thing about dignity,” said Rebecca Vinroot, James City County Social Services director. “You shouldn’t have to live like that.”

The numbers

The number of calls reporting a fall has gradually increased, spiking slightly in 2016.

By 2017, Social Services and emergency responders realized they needed to take action.

“We said we gotta come up with something,” said Jason Sweet, an emergency medical services battalion chief with James City County. Sweet and Family Service Specialist Ellie Rest are the primary staff working with the CONECT program and have received specialized training.

The numbers are tracked in two different ways: the number of calls coming in reporting a “fall,” and the number of cases classified by first responders after they arrive as a lift assist with no injuries.

A call reporting a fall may not be documented in the tracking system as a lift assist — where someone simply needs help moving — if there are injuries such as a broken bone or laceration that take priority.

In 2013, the number of lift assist calls were around 2.29 percent of total emergency calls in the county. By 2016, that percentage rose to 5.25 percent of calls.

The number of lift assist calls dropped to 3.39 percent in 2017, but has since risen to 5.42 percent of calls so far in 2019.

Some of the calls for falls and lift assists revolve around age, although they can also relate to disabilities. The two age groups with the highest number of calls are 70 to 79 and 80 to 89.

The 80 to 89 group accounts for nearly 16 percent of all fall calls.


The purpose of CONECT is in the name: It aims to connect residents with services that will improve their quality of life.

Whether the person doesn’t have a support system in the area, or their family doesn’t have the resources to provide what they need, Social Services can step in and facilitate access to resources.

Those resources include in-home care, classes, social programs, strengthening programs and more.

Vinroot said the referrals come from both fire and police, and help Social Services find issues inside homes they otherwise would not have seen.

“We look at the long-term solution — why were these people injured in the first place?” Rest added.

So far, since the program launched in March 2018, it has fielded 280 referrals. About 70 percent of those were for residents Social Services staff had never interacted with.

Sweet said part of launching CONECT required first responders to look at situations with a “different eye” — Does it seem like the patient hadn’t eaten in a while? Are they wearing non-slip socks? Is their home dangerous or cluttered?

Why the numbers may not change much

There’s no question that James City County will continue to see growth in the upcoming decades.

Because of that growth, and the aging of the existing population, fire and Social Services officials don’t believe the CONECT program will necessarily decrease the numbers.

CONECT will help cut down the number of repeat callers for falls and lift assists, but a growing and aging population means more first-time calls with continue to come in.

“It’s hard to measure it,” Rest said. “If you’re intervening the first time – how many times would they have called?”

To find out more, call James City County Social Services at 757-259-3115 or email

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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