A new program started at the Tucson Fire Department is successfully helping people who use 911 but don't need emergency help get the medical attention they need.
When her husband fell in their home again and got hurt, Betty Ness knew they might not be able to live in their home any longer.
"I just couldn't do it anymore. It was just impossible," Ness said.
When the paramedics came to their home, they referred the Ness' to the fire department's pilot program TC3, or Tucson Collaborative Community Care.
Currently, TC3 is a three member team headed up by Captain Mike Bishop. Paramedic Sue Rizzi and EMT Brad Chilcote work with Bishop to collect all the referrals from the emergency teams and help the people with whatever medical need they may have.
"We get about 5 to 6 referrals a day from the field crews that they've encountered someone that needs our help," said Bishop. Over the last six months, they have helped more than 100 people through these referrals.
So here's how it works: after a referral comes in, the team will schedule the time to make an in home visit.
"Our average visit is about 90 minutes, and we'll just show up and talk and figure out what their needs are," said Bishop.
TC3 handles everything from drug addiction cases to mental illness. In the Ness' case, they needed to move to assisted living, so the TC3 team connected the couple with a spot at Brookdale senior living.
Betty's husband Joe is still recovering from his fall in the hospital, but for Betty, she said the move was life changing. "I can tell you one thing, it's a wonderful place to be," said Ness.
"We have a lot of people out there who live alone, don't have family members, don't have people who can reach out and help them navigate these services, so there is a huge need," said Bishop of TC3's success so far.
The program is in an 18 month trial period, and if it proves successful, it will continue to get funding. Bishop said they've helped 100% of their referrals get at least some help, and he's looking forward to growing the program and its partnerships with local healthcare organizations.
But, Bishop said, there's a rich emotional component to reaching out to Tucson's most vulnerable. "By showing up, we've given them hope again, and so that's the biggest thing," Bishop said. "Just by being there for them and holding their hand through this process, I think that alone changes their quality of life."
As proof of the impact this program is truly making, Sue Rizzi said she stops by to see Betty Ness regularly, and during our interview, Betty asked her: "Will you be my friend?"
Rizzi smiled at her and replied: "I am your friend!"
The program is just getting started, but eventually, the TC3 team wants to create a 311 system, which would be a call line just like 911, but for non-emergency help.