Ambulance service accused of taking too long

(Source: WGCL)

When you call 911 for a medical emergency, you expect paramedics to rush to save your life. In Dunwoody, city councilman Terry Nall says some crews are taking their sweet time.

“It’s very concerning, the first five minutes of any medical emergency. That is significant...the difference between life and death,” said Nall.

Nall has been tracking American Medical response times since they first signed a contract with DeKalb County in 2013, making them the only ambulance service in the county.

He says the agreement guarantees the national standard, which is eight minutes, 59 seconds on 90 percent of the calls.

Nall says AMR has violated that contract, showing up 14 minutes, 8 seconds for most calls in Dunwoody. And throughout DeKalb County, it takes them almost 15 minutes to get to a scene.

“I do police ride-alongs with each shift three times a year, and I see first-hand how they’re just waiting and waiting…for the emergency service to arrive,” said Nall.

The councilman believes AMR is understaffed and doesn’t have enough units.

“it’s also a for-profit company, which means they’re looking to maximize their bottom line as opposed to maximizing public safety,” said Nall.

The question now is whether DeKalb County will find another service when the contract expires or hit AMR with penalties.

“You know, at the end of the day, a hard-dollar penalty is nothing compared to the loss of life,” said Nall.

AMR has also been slow in responding to my questions. I’ve been working to get answers since Wednesday. I’ve emailed, called, left voicemails, and even went to their DeKalb County office Thursday afternoon.

A regional director called me Thursday, saying he will look into this.

AMR released the following statement:

“American Medical Response (AMR) has been a committed partner of Dekalb County, delivering medical transportation services as part of an integrated emergency medical response system since 2013. DeKalb County EMS operates a dual response system, ensuring that the fire-based paramedics arrive on scene in just a few minutes followed by an ambulance – both are dispatched simultaneously to every true emergency. The response model guarantees that no one with a medical emergency waits for care. Fire Stations are located throughout the County to ensure a short response time, ambulances move throughout the County because transporting patients to the hospital results in their positions always changing. All units are tracked on a County wide map and the number of units on duty is based upon historical call levels.

AMR provides a countywide transportation service to all cities within its jurisdiction. In 2017, all ambulance responses to the Dunwoody area averaged ten minutes – only one minute longer than the goal of 9. This means that within ten minutes, every high acuity patient receives immediate care from the first responders and the process of transporting to an emergency department begins. As part of our contract with the County, AMR has outfitted all fire response units with life-saving cardiac monitors and other equipment to support this response system. In addition, AMR also deploys ambulances from the local Dunwoody fire stations as an added measure for this remote area of the county.

So far this year, DeKalb EMS volume is 10% higher than expected…this coupled with inevitable delays in local emergency departments leads to stress throughout the system. AMR plans carefully for expected demand but sudden spikes can lead to challenges. From a staffing standpoint we continue to hire and onboard new employees in two-week cycles. We expect that at some point the reasons behind unexpected spikes in demand will abate and things will return to normal. Once demand for ambulance service declines it will also lead to less stress on local emergency departments.

In future County agreements AMR would like to work with the County on a solution for less serious 9-1-1 requests – which will decrease the demand on ambulances available for true emergencies. Recent legislation in Georgia is now allowing less serious patients, after being evaluated by EMS, to be transported to clinics rather than hospital emergency departments. This solution will free up both Fire Department units and EMS ambulances

Like the emergency departments, AMR recommends that people utilize 9-1-1 for true emergencies, for less serious health issues they should seek treatment by their doctor or an urgent care center."

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