The state agency responsible for determining what companies and agencies will provide ambulance services to various areas of Georgia is set to take up Dunwoody’s call for creating its own emergency medical service in August.
Dunwoody is included in the state’s Region 3 EMS council, included under the umbrella of the state Department of Public Health. The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Aug. 9. Region 3 includes DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Douglas, Gwinnett, Clayton, Rockdale and Newton counties.
The EMS council will consider Dunwoody’s recent declaration of an EMS emergency following the city’s repeated complaints to DeKalb officials of slow response times from American Medical Response, the ambulance agency contracted through DeKalb County for the past five years. AMR’s contract with DeKalb expires Dec. 31.
AMR just went through a similar situation in south Fulton County. Leaders there asked the state Department of Public Health to open up its EMS region to competitive bidding due to slow response times from AMR – similar to what Dunwoody is experiencing currently.
The state agency eventually awarded the south Fulton EMS bid to Grady EMS over AMR.
While Dunwoody has consistently raised concerns since 2016 about slow response times by AMR in its city, neighboring Brookhaven is not seeing an emergency nor publicly voicing concerns.
“We are reviewing performance data and monitoring the Dunwoody issue,” Brookhaven spokesperson Burke Brennan said.
AMR’s troubles in Georgia are not unique. The company has been consistently late in responding to emergency calls, representing an “imminent threat” to the public’s safety, according to complaints in Colorado Springs, according to EMS1.com, an online resource for EMS agencies.
In 2017, AMR was forced to pay more than $300,000 in penalties to Colorado Springs and El Paso County for more than 4,200 instances in which ambulance crews failed to meet their required response times under separate contracts with the two governments, according to EMS1.com.
DeKalb County has fined AMR more than $1.5 million for slow response times, but AMR is disputing the amount.
National standards set by state and local municipalities require 90 percent of ambulance calls respond in under 9 minutes. That’s the time AMR is contracted with DeKalb County to meet as well.
In Brookhaven in all of 2017, AMR’s response times include a low of 8 minute 36 seconds out of 241 calls in January to a high of 11 minutes and 1 second over 211 calls in September. The remaining months consistently fall in the 9 and 10-minute range.
According to data provided to the Dunwoody City Council, AMR responded to 1,026 calls in Dunwoody between January and November 2016.
Average response time was 10 minutes, 45 seconds. For all of DeKalb County, AMR responded to 82,851 calls between January and November with a 9 minute, 26 second average response time.
But mixed in those numbers are numerous 20- and 30-minute wait times as well.
The city of Dunwoody filed May 23 a “Declaration of EMS Emergency” with the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Office of EMS and Trauma asking for the “expeditious actions of remedy and relief for failing emergency service response times and patient care for residents/businesses and visitors of Dunwoody.”
Included in the declaration is the statement that AMR fails “to meet contractual obligations of adherence to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) response time standards/ commonly referred to as ‘NFPA 1710’ emergency response time standard for “career” Fire/EMS services/ of an 8 minute and 59 second response time on 90 percent of its emergency calls.”
AMR and DeKalb have tried to address the issue by locating a permanent ambulance in Dunwoody, but city leaders are not impressed and say the only way to ensure the security of its residents and those who work and pass through the city is to provide its own service, according to Councilmember Terry Nall.
Nall said the city’s dedicated zone should be self sufficient from users of the service via insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
“Dunwoody has a very high payer mix. Our city cost is likely to be for EMS radio dispatch, which we would incorporate within the ChattComm 911 dispatch center, along with Dunwoody Police,” he said.