Tracking ambulance response in metro Atlanta - CBS46 News

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Tracking ambulance response in metro Atlanta

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"I just remember saying somebody call 911, my baby dying."

Takecha Jacks cant get that horrible November night off her mind.

"Where are they? What’s going on?"

Her 16 year old daughter Jewell--shot in the head by a gun that inexplicably went off inside her Lithonia bedroom last fall.

Police were first to respond--fire second--and the ambulance third.

The family claims, "It took them forever."

American Medical Response, or AMR. The ambulance company contracted by DeKalb County to give first aid and transport the patient.

AMR told us in a statement, they responded in 8 minutes from the time they got the call.

County 911 records we obtained show it was 20 minutes.

Its unclear who's right. AMR refused our request to explain.

What is clear--AMR has been under fire.

In fact, recently, the city of Dunwoody declared an EMS state of emergency.

"Dunwoody police were on the scene, Dunwoody fire services were on the scene, but the first responders who were there told the bystanders ‘where is that EMS unit?" says Terry Nall, Dunwoody city councilman of a recent call.

AMR declined our requests for an interview. And they refused to provide us detailed annual response time data.

Saying they were a private company and weren't accountable to us.

That motivated us to dig deeper into accountability at contracted ambulance companies.

What we found? AMR and one other, MAAS, or Metro Atlanta Ambulance Service---which serves parts of Cobb County--would not provide transparency.

We had to go to the counties for data.

AMR, for one, might have good reason to be secretive.

Fulton and DeKalb County records we obtained, show AMR with an average response time of 15 to 20 minutes for all calls. And the numbers have been getting worse as the year unfolds.

A good average, according to national standards, is between 9 and 12 minutes depending on severity of the call.  

Something the majority of ambulance companies we surveyed regularly achieved.

Including Puckett EMS, a primary provider of ambulance service in Cobb County.

They served up their records--and they had good reason too--their response times are on target.

More so though, leadership says they wanted to make a statement.

"I believe it’s always to everyone’s best interest to be transparent," says Jim McMichen.

They invited us into their dispatch center and on an ambulance call, to observe their process.

"Each day, each week, each month, we are looking at those numbers."

On this day, Puckett knew they were being judged. But, management insists, they judge themselves everyday.

"We have metrics we have to follow or we lose contracts, we pay fines, or the state takes our license," says McMichen.

A dispute over response time accuracy is at a boiling point in Athens-Clarke county.

"We have been asking them for years to release their data."

Community activist Sam Rafal with 'Athens for Everyone' says he had to hire an attorney to get raw data from the state regarding National EMS, his local ambulance provider.

Among his arguments; the practice of presenting response time averages as opposed to 90th percentile time--thats the time is takes an ambulance to respond to 90 percent of calls they receive--which often provides a less rosy picture.  

Benny Atkins with National EMS responds by saying, "Those numbers released by the state included all 911 calls, whether they were priority one, two or three."

Meaning, once you separate the true emergencies from the low priority calls, their average response falls in line.

Meanwhile, back in DeKalb County, AMR was recently fined more than a million bucks for failing to meet contractual response times.

As mothers, like Takecha Jacks, wonder, in that instance, could a faster response have saved her daughters life.