Former senior chief petty officer Dick Clark, 68, credits Italy’s emergency 118 service with saving his life after a 2001 accident and thinks Americans should be informed of the emergency telephone service.

Former senior chief petty officer Dick Clark, 68, credits Italy’s emergency 118 service with saving his life after a 2001 accident and thinks Americans should be informed of the emergency telephone service. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Some Americans living in Italy don’t know they can dial 118 for emergency ambulance care.

In part, that’s by design.

Medical and security officials of Naval Support Activity, Naples, don’t advertise it, and actually prefer Americans to call the base-run emergency phone number, even if it’s to dispatch an Italian ambulance, hospital spokesman Chief Mike Harper said.

“We don’t try to have the patients self-diagnose,” he said. The Navy-run Alarm Control Center and the base hospital’s emergency room are staffed with professionals who can help determine what level of care a patient might need, and if an Italian ambulance is determined to be what’s needed, they can dispatch one out, Harper said.

“If you are a patient who doesn’t speak Italian and you call 118, you will have some language barriers there,” he said, citing a primary reason base officials prefer Americans to call the U.S. emergency line of 911 if on base or 081-568-4911 off base.

But Americans should be educated to all options available to them, in case they need to make an educated choice, said 68-year-old Dick Clark, the recipient of Italian emergency medicine in November 2001 after a car plowed into him as he was riding a mountain bike about a half-mile from his home.

As a former senior master chief, and then civilian security guard working at NSA Naples, he was aware of the 118 system.

“But many others aren’t. They don’t know about it, and they should,” said Clark, who suffered four broken ribs and a collapsed lung in the crash. A bystander called 118 and an ambulance crew rushed Clark to S. Maria Della Grazie in Pozzuoli. He said he received exceptional emergency care from the ambulance crew and the surgeons and intensive care unit staff at the Italian hospital.

Unlike the U.S. emergency phone system, Italy has separate numbers for different emergency services. The emergency number for Carabinieri is 112, police is 113 and fire is 115. The national medical emergency hot line is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and networked with hospitals that will dispatch ambulances closest to an emergency patient's location. Emergency crews determine what hospital facility is best to aid the patient.

When 118 is dialed from any fixed or mobile telephone in Italy, a medical operations center responds that is staffed by physicians or emergency-trained personnel.

Much ado was made over the opening of the $42 million U.S. Naval Hospital on the family support complex in Gricianano in July 2003, but the 180,000-square-foot facility amounts to “little more than a big clinic,” said one hospital employee who asked not to be identified.

While the hospital has an emergency room, it does not have facilities to treat serious trauma cases or a cardiologist for heart attacks, for example, Harper said.

Services available at the hospital include an allergy clinic, audiology clinic, behavioral health clinic, counseling and assistance center, dental clinic, educational and developmental intervention services, family practice clinic, immunization clinic, internal medicine clinic, military sick call, obstetrics/gynecology clinic, ophthalmology/optometry clinic, orthopedic clinic, pediatric clinic, physical examinations, physical therapy, surgery clinic and travel medicine, according to a listing Harper provided.

If an American is taken to an Italian hospital, the receiving hospital usually notifies U.S. officials and one of the hospital’s three translators are sent out if needed, Harper said.

“They give us a call and we bring in our liaison staff right away,” he said.

In the event a liaison officer isn’t sent, patients can call the hospital quarterdeck at DSN 629-6155 or commercial 081-811-6155.

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