As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to the residents, visitors and businesses in the city of Dunwoody. First and foremost, ensuring public safety is our job Number One.
Our city is home to 50,000 residents and is the heart of Perimeter Center, with more than 120,000 workers and hundreds of thousands more on I-285 as they pass through Dunwoody. It is critical we provide the highest levels of public safety and emergency response to all individuals within our city’s borders.
To that end, and after two years of increasingly inadequate Emergency Medical Service (EMS) to our community, the Dunwoody City Council issued a “Declaration of EMS Emergency” with DeKalb County on May 21. This was a necessary and urgent plea.
Prior to 2013, DeKalb County Fire held the EMS certificate from the Georgia Department of Public Health and its regional EMS Council, and invested in placing its own EMS units at all three county fire stations in Dunwoody.
Then in 2013, DeKalb County decided to “sublet” its EMS certificate to American Medical Response (AMR), a private EMS provider, via a five-year contract. This is when DeKalb County stopped investing in and operating its own EMS service and also decided not to provide supplemental compensation to assure compliance and quality of service. Worse is DeKalb County charges the EMS provider an annual fee for operating the EMS service.
DeKalb County’s solution, to outsource its EMS, has resulted in noncompliant response times and measurable delays in getting EMS units to people in our community.
While DeKalb County Fire sends fire engines to medical calls, and many firemen are basic emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics, those fire trucks are not EMS transport vehicles. While fire engine responders can begin basic care, the severity of the medical emergency often requires immediate EMS transport to the hospital. Field care only goes so far.
National standards, and the DeKalb County EMS contract itself, require an EMS unit to arrive within nine minutes for 90 percent of all calls. But in Dunwoody, EMS/AMR units rarely arrive within nine minutes. DeKalb County EMS/AMR arrival is late by 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes and sometimes as late as 60 minutes. Even worse, at least one time in Dunwoody, EMS/AMR was a no-show.
Despite admitting the delayed EMS/AMR response problem was “widely acknowledged,” DeKalb County has not pursued a “for cause” termination of the EMS/AMR contract throughout the five years. By contrast, it is common for other counties with private EMS providers to provide the radio dispatch service and supplemental compensation to its EMS provider.
Not only does DeKalb County not provide any such investment, it charges the EMS provider an annual fee, reported by AMR as $750,000 per year. This is backwards from best practices and is a major reason DeKalb County EMS/AMR response times are so awful. AMR is forced to invest in revenue to DeKalb County rather than invest in compliant EMS delivery.
Dunwoody leaders registered complaints early and often with DeKalb County leaders, staff and elected officials. When the fire chief and EMS/AMR leadership appeared at a Dunwoody City Council meeting in 2016, they openly admitted the closest EMS unit at that moment was at I-285 at Memorial Drive, some 20 miles away. This was unacceptable then and is unacceptable today.
In early 2017, DeKalb County EMS/AMR unveiled a mitigation plan to post a single EMS unit at a Dunwoody fire station. That unit did not stay in place because medical calls in central DeKalb County are so voluminous that AMR opted to post its units in the central part of the county.
On May 29, 2018, when asked to address the deficient service in Dunwoody, DeKalb EMS/AMR announced a repeat of the same single-unit mitigation plan. As before, it has again proven to be insufficient. Delayed EMS/AMR incidents in Dunwoody continue to occur.
Dunwoody City Council formally asked the state EMS Council to open Dunwoody as a dedicated EMS zone. Dunwoody is prepared to make the investment in public safety that DeKalb County should have made in the years since 2013.
This is an EMS Emergency for Dunwoody residents, visitors, and businesses. Dunwoody has become the forgotten area of DeKalb County. We need the very best level of dedicated EMS zone coverage.
A dedicated Dunwoody EMS zone will improve the EMS services for the benefit of the public welfare. Dunwoody owes it to our residents and visitors because public safety is our job Number One.
Terry Nall is a member of the Dunwoody City Council.