HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a bill allowing emergency care providers to offer non-emergency medical assistance in their communities to reduce noncritical calls to 911, especially in rural areas.

The providers could fill gaps in the current medical system by helping people manage their medicine or chronic illnesses, giving them a ride to their doctor’s office or home from a hospital, or connecting them with other medical or mental health services, supporters said.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Margie MacDonald, allows the Board of Medical Examiners to create rules detailing changes and a training program for paramedics and emergency medical technicians. It does not require volunteer emergency agencies to offer the services.

Supporters said the measure, which Bullock signed Wednesday, will reduce the number of 911 calls from people who could have been helped earlier and less expensively.

Hundreds of programs around the country are using emergency care providers to fill similar community medical needs. Montana has successful pilot programs in Cut Bank and Red Lodge, said Jim DeTienne, supervisor of the state health department’s Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Systems section.

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