KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City fire department said Wednesday that there are three places in the city where more people go to the hospital than others.
With more 30 years on the job, KC Fire Division Chief Mike Latta has responded to thousands of emergency calls as a paramedic.
But he says there are other calls: those from people who are using the fire department's ambulance services as their personal doctors.
"If they called today and said ‘I'm not feeling well,’ it could be a couple of weeks before they can get seen maybe even longer," Latta said.
KCFD paramedics and EMTs responded to 636 medical calls at the City Union Mission last year.
"They're calling the ambulance on their own to come and pick them up so they can have their medical needs met immediately instead of having to wait for a long period of time," Cord Cochran said, the director of the men's ministries at the City Union Mission.
The number doesn't surprise the shelter's management.
"We're not qualified medical people in order to meet their needs at the time and we don't know exactly what the emergency is whenever they're asking for it," Cochran said.
Cochran adds that a lot of calls are for common ailments such chest paints and abnormal insulin levels. However, many of the 250 men who stay at the shelter don't have jobs so the ambulance bills go unpaid.
The shelter said they can't do any about that but are working to change the men's thinking.
"On the one hand, that's all they've ever known and on the second hand we are in the process of teaching so that they don't misuse the services that are provided," Cochran said.
City Union Mission isn't alone.
Ambulances showed up to a state-run halfway house in the West Bottoms 560 times and at the city jail 370 times-- making them the top three places with frequent users of 911.
"We don't have the option of 'No, we're not going to respond to you.' We respond to everybody who calls for assistance," KCFD Chief Paul Berardi said.
Berardi said despite it costing the fire department about $12 million a year, there's no silver bullet solution to this problem.
"This is an issue we need to come together and solve. What the very good thing about that is many people are indeed trying to solve the issue," he said.
One solution is working at the city jail where there's a nurse taking care of the inmate ailments. The department is also working with social service program to get the people the help they need with healthcare before calling 911.