You may have recently read stories about American Medical Response (AMR) – DeKalb County’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and ambulance transport service. There have been stories about long response times and an alleged assault by an AMR employee, who has since been terminated. I’d like to address these concerns and give my thoughts regarding the current state of EMS and ambulance transport services provided in DeKalb.
As I have stated in the past, I am deeply concerned about services provided by AMR to all residents of the county. I have concerns about their response times and ability to meet the terms of their contract. As a resident of Dunwoody, and a mom, I am personally invested in making sure that we have high quality and timely EMS.
In DeKalb County, the Fire Department responds to the vast majority of medical calls and begins providing appropriate patient care until an ambulance arrives to transport the patient in needed. All firefighters are certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and many are certified paramedics. This level of training is consistent with the crews of an ambulance service, which includes one paramedic and one EMT.
There does appear to be some misinformation as it relates to me, my position, and actions concerning EMS in Dunwoody, District 1, and all of DeKalb County. As a result, I’d like to provide some clarity regarding my position on the city of Dunwoody’s recently declared “state of EMS emergency”.
First, I am not opposed to Dunwoody taking on the obligation to provide any service; including EMS, Fire, etc. My posture is open and agreeable regarding the decisions of all cities on how best to serve their residents. If a city moves in that direction, I will be here to work with them. In fact, this happened over a year ago when Chamblee removed the city from the special tax district for roads and took on this service for themselves.
However, the city of Dunwoody has not sent any official correspondence to me regarding their concerns with EMS. No one from the city has called me and requested a meeting regarding this matter. No one from the city has asked me to join them at meetings they held with various county officials and contractors. No one from the city has requested a meeting with the BOC and our Public Safety committee on this matter. I am more than happy to assist the city with any talks they are having with the CEO and administration. Unfortunately, the city has not coordinated any of their efforts with me and not informed me of any of the meetings they have had with the administration.
Upon hearing of Dunwoody’s city council unanimous vote late last month to ask the state to let it provide its own EMS, I invited the city to participate in county commission committee meetings to discuss this issue. The BOC does much of its work within the committee structure and I think that the city would find it useful to attend committee meetings that are working this very issue. In our committee meetings, we often have city leaders attend and we ask them to sit at the table with us, so we can get their input. Since I have not heard from any member of the Dunwoody city council, I will once again extend this invitation.
I have read comments in social media posts that express concern for the potential for loss of life. Sadly, in April there was a death in a situation where ChatComm, the 911 service provider to the city of Duwnoody, dispatched only to the Dunwoody Police Department. A 911 call was received at 1:28pm. The caller called back ChatComm 911 at 1:57pm because no one had responded. At 1:58 ChatComm transferred the call to DeKalb. At 2:02pm, DeKalb dispatched DKFR and AMR. At 2:10pm DKFR was on the scene and began care. AMR arrived at 2:15pm and transported the patient to the hospital where she died later in the afternoon. It is impossible to know the effect of the almost 30 minute delay in dispatching by ChatComm. It does suggest that we should take a broader look at emergency response protocols and response times. Public safety is the most important role of government.
I continue to focus and work to improve the quality and efficiency of county government in all aspects and at all levels. We have made improvements in some areas. However, we have many areas that need a great deal of attention and reform. While the county is in the process of putting a new bid out for ambulance services, it is important to realize that when any jurisdiction (DeKalb or Dunwoody) changes their EMS provider or decides to bring it in-house, there is a transition period that includes buying new/more equipment and hiring and training staff.
EMS is a service that jurisdictions are struggling with nationally. A quick Google search yields copious recent stories from Modesto, CA , to Warren, OH, to Rochester, NY, to South Fulton, GA and even the City of Milton nearby. While we are working to improve the ambulance response times in DeKalb, it is important to understand the context of the larger problem and the dynamics that are creating these challenges. For example, are the changes in insurance/Medicare reimbursement rates disrupting the market for this service? What impact does the tight labor market having on employee recruitment, quality, and wages? Should Dunwoody consider a supplement for faster response times as some cities in North Fulton have done?
For anyone seeking to understand how best to evaluate and improve EMS, I came a cross this useful article: The Great Ambulance Response Time Debate . I found it helpful in setting up a framework for discussing how best to improve this service.
I hope this will give everyone a clearer insight into my thoughts on EMS in Dunwoody and DeKalb. I respect and support the prerogatives of cities when they wish to take over county services. I have and continue to work on this issue to improve EMS for my district and the whole county. I encourage Dunwoody officials to reach out to my office so they have direct access to the Board of Commissioners. Additionally, I hope that they will reach out to me with specific requests and include me in any meetings so that I can effectively advocate on their behalf.