On a recent night in Dunwoody, parents called 911 to help their 18-month-old baby, who suffers severe seizures. It took nearly 30 minutes for a DeKalb County ambulance to arrive.
That sort of delay outraged the Dunwoody City Council, which called for improvements at its Dec. 12 meeting. American Medical Response (AMR), the private contractor that provides ambulance service, promises fixes are coming soon.
“We just can’t have someone waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance,” said Councilmember Lynn Deutsch. “That’s mind-blowing.”
“By the end of March, you will see improvement in Dunwoody,” said AMR Regional Director Ken Simpson.
At the council meeting, members called on the carpet Simpson and Chief Darnell Fullum of DeKalb Fire & Rescue, which contracts out the ambulance service. The council wanted to hear explanations of how they plan to implement faster response times, specifically ambulance response times, to Dunwoody.
“You are missing it big time in our community,” said Deutsch. “You have multiple calls that are more than 30 minutes and far more calls in the 20-minute range. That’s just ridiculous. We need to get this fixed.”
Deutsch said she and Councilmember Jim Riticher were contacted in November by the upset parents of the 18-month-old daughter who suffers seizures.
The DeKalb fire department responded quickly, and so did the Dunwoody Police Department, but the family and other emergency personnel were “waiting and waiting” for an ambulance to transport the girl to the hospital. Only ambulances can transport a patient to the hospital, not firefighters or police officers.
Simpson of AMR explained the ambulance driver in that incident for some reason did not follow directions to the home of the sick child. Another ambulance was dispatched but it took close to 30 minutes to get an ambulance to the home. The driver of the original ambulance has since been fired, Simpson told the council.
Deutsch said DeKalb’s emergency response times range sometimes from 20 to 30 minutes.
Simpson said AMR is continuing to figure out where to best place ambulances throughout the county based on need and also studying changing and congested traffic patterns.
DeKalb Fire contracted with AMR in 2013 to provide ambulance service. At the time, AMR promised their average response times would be 8 minutes, 59 seconds or less on 90 percent of their calls.
According to data provided to the 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, said council members.
“This is a chronic, persistent problem,” said Councilmember Terry Nall. “This needs to be addressed or we will be forced to look at other options. We are not getting served well today.”
There are three DeKalb fire stations serving Dunwoody: Station 12 at 5323 Roberts Drive, Station 18 at Barclay Drive in Chamblee and Station 21 at 1090 Crown Point Parkway.
Between April 1 and Dec. 5, Station 12 had 554 calls with an average response time of 7 minutes, 58 seconds; Station 18 answered 3,594 calls with an average response time of 7 minutes, 27 seconds; and Station 21 had 3,232 calls with an average 7 minutes, 46 seconds response time. Total calls served in Dunwoody, including some areas in unincorporated DeKalb, were 7,380 with a 7 minutes, 44 seconds average response time.
Fullum informed the mayor and City Council that the department monitors response times on a monthly basis.
“I hear you loud and clear,” he said of the complaints and promised the department is bringing on new firefighters in March to help ensure quality service to the entire county.
Simpson said AMR is recruiting more paramedics and EMTs and is paying employees overtime and working on getting more ambulances to be near Dunwoody at all times. He added that one cause of slower response times is hospital emergency rooms taking longer to sign in patients from ambulances. That means slower turnaround for ambulances, he said. Buying more ambulances is also in the works.
Deutsch said in an interview that she believes AMR is short of personnel and equipment.
“There may be a way to add ambulance services to the county, but it will cost us,” she said.