DeKalb County and American Medical Response entered into an agreement May 29 that requires AMR to immediately increase staffing and ambulances in two DeKalb County fire stations in Dunwoody and Stonecrest.
But Dunwoody City Councilmember Terry Nall said the city is not impressed with the new mitigation plans and said the city is still moving forward with creating its own EMS service provider.
“Our Declaration of EMS Emergency stands and we call upon the state EMS authorities to expeditiously open the city of Dunwoody as an EMS zone for separate contracting with an EMS provider,” Nall said. “This state action would allow Dunwoody to have dedicated EMS units in our zone, as well as establish automatic aid and mutual aid arrangements with surrounding jurisdictions, as needed. DeKalb County is simply too large of a geographical area to handle with just one EMS provider.”
The agreement between DeKalb and AMR calls for one more ambulance to be located at Fire Rescue Station No. 21, located at
DeKalb Fire Chief Darnell Fullum. The county has a population of about 700,000 people.
“These units are additional and above what they have now,” Fullum said. “They will not be moved out of those areas.”
The agreement between DeKalb County and AMR follows the Dunwoody City Council’s calls for action after an AMR employee allegedly struck a Dunwoody teen in an ambulance as well as ongoing complaints about slow response times to the city. AMR’s contractual agreement with DeKalb County states it will respond to calls in 8 minutes and 59 seconds for 90 percent of its calls. In DeKalb County, AMR’s average response time is 9 minutes and 39 seconds, while in Dunwoody that average is 10 minutes and 2 seconds, according to Dunwoody officials.
DeKalb officials say they have been addressing slow response times by AMR for a year. In early 2017, DeKalb Fire Rescue leadership requested a mitigation plan to improve service delivery. After AMR consistently failed to meet minimum contractual standards, AMR was notified that the company would be penalized for noncompliance, according to DeKalb officials.
Starting in Sept. 2017, more than $1.5 million in fines have been assessed by DeKalb County.
Nall said DeKalb’s May 29 announcement of a new agreement between DeKalb County and AMR is “nothing more than the previous mitigation plan submitted to Dunwoody in a report from AMR back in February 2017.”
“Our EMS emergency continues,” Nall said. “Within the last several days the city of Dunwoody has had two additional incidents. One with a 43 minute EMS response time and another with an EMS unit ‘no-show’after 40 minutes of waiting and a Dunwoody Police officer having to transport the patient to a medical facility.
“We owe it to our citizens to exercise local control over the EMS portion of public safety. We look forward to working with the first responders of DeKalb Fire in tandem with an EMS provider dedicated to a Dunwoody EMS zone,” Nall added.
Fullum said he had not learned of the late response incidents Nall was speaking of. He also said there are key differences between the agreements DeKalb County made with AMR last year and this year.
In the 2017 agreement, AMR agreed to have a shift-change at Station 18 on Barclay Drive in Chamblee rather than travel to Stone Mountain for a shift change to ensure an ambulance is available in the north end of DeKalb County.
The new agreement promises to keep an ambulance full-time in North DeKalb and posted at the Dunwoody fire station.
Daily reports are also required as part of the new agreement, Fullum said.
“We do believe this next step, in essence leaving a unit [in Dunwoody], will have a positive impact on the entire system,” Fullum said.
Fullum said he understands the frustration Dunwoody officials have expressed. “We have recognized there is a challenge here and it will be addressed,” he said. “I’m never happy to hear of long response times in any part of the county.”
The new agreement states that within 30 days, AMR will contract with a third-party ambulance service to provide additional resources. AMR will provide daily reports and will attend monthly review meetings with DeKalb County Public Safety leadership.
“AMR’s primary role is to provide emergency transport services,” said Director of Public Safety Jack Lumpkin in a press release. “DeKalb Fire Rescue’s primary role is to provide basic life support until an ambulance arrives. Fire Rescue units are usually on the scene within an average of seven and a half minutes.”
Other elements of the agreement include:
- AMR will ensure that the hourly crew positions are fully staffed.
- AMR will provide staffing to increase the available ambulance units and reduce the incidents of no ambulances available for incoming calls.
- AMR will provide a revised Posting and Deployment Plan for review in 10 business days.
On Tuesday, May 22, Dunwoody’s City Manager Eric Linton, City Attorney Bill Riley, Mayor Denis Shortal and Councilmember Nall met with Terence Ramotar, Regional Director of AMR for Florida and Georgia. Ramotar could not be immediately reached for comment.
The next day, the city filed a “Declaration of EMS Emergency” with the Georgia Department of Public Health/ 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.”
Nall has said DeKalb officials have neglected the city too long for improving ambulance response times, calling Dunwoody the “forgotten area.”
“I would disagree with that,” Fullum said. “Dunwoody is not the forgotten area. I have to look at the county in totality.”
Dunwoody’s unhappiness with AMR’s service dates back to 2016 due to poor response times. In recent days, it has take an AMR ambulance 58 minutes to respond to a pedestrian struck on Tilly Mill Road and 36-minutes to respond to a local restaurant, according to Linton.
Fullum said last year AMR responded to 105,000 call while the county fire department responded to 83,000 calls. He noted that all firefighters are trained EMTs.
An issue he said AMR faces in responding to calls in Dunwoody includes traffic. “The density alone creates issues for travel time,” Fullum said.
Dunwoody is also in the upper corner of DeKalb County that Fullum described as being “very narrow.” When an ambulance responds to a call and transports a patient in North DeKalb to a hospital, typically to Pill Hill in Sandy Springs, there are not ambulance units available from all four directions — north, south, east and west — available as there are in other parts of the county, especially Central DeKalb County where most emergency calls originate.
Another issue facing EMS not just in DeKalb but across the country is a shortage of paramedics and EMTs, Fullum said.
DeKalb County’s contract with AMR began in June 2013 and ends on Dec. 31. The county is also in the process of drafting a request for proposals for a new EMS transport services contract.