The city of Dunwoody and DeKalb County officials announced Oct. 31 an agreement has been reached to find ways to improve ambulance response times in the city, including adding an extra ambulance to the city during peak hours and mandated monthly reporting on response times to the city. The agreement comes after the city has worked for several months to try to break off from DeKalb County to create its own EMS zone and administer its own ambulance service.

The agreement between DeKalb and Dunwoody is one of others made during a years-long battle over ambulance response times, with Dunwoody alleging the county was not meeting its contractual requirements on ambulance response times. In May, the city and county reached an agreement to increase the number of ambulances.

A meeting of the full Region 3 EMS Council, which oversees ambulance contracts and EMS zones including DeKalb County, is set for Nov. 8.

DeKalb County’s contract with American Medical Response as its current ambulance provider expires Dec. 31. The county is still working with a consultant to come up with a new request for proposal and as the deadline approaches, it appears the county will be extending its contract with AMR until a new contract can be finalized and put out to bid. That’s expected to take place early next year, according to DeKalb officials.

The newest MOU between DeKalb and Dunwoody will be decided by the Dunwoody City Council at its Nov. 5 meeting. If approved, it will be effective for a one-year term and will automatically renew until a contract with a new ambulance provider containing the material terms of the agreement is signed, according to city officials.

The agreement with DeKalb outlines the city’s requirements on:

  • Defined response times: Defined response times for Advance Life Support calls will include a nine-minute or less, 90 percent response time for critical life-threatening calls, and 15 minute or less, 90 percent response time for basic life support calls.
  • Dedicated ambulances: Two ambulances are already stationed at Fire Stations 18 and 21 in Dunwoody. A third will be posted at Fire Station 12. These units will be dedicated to the service areas of those fire stations which include Dunwoody and parts of Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville. The county will also add one additional ambulance unit during the peak hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Friday, to meet the needs required by the increased daytime population in the Perimeter Center area. The ambulances serving Dunwoody will be advanced life support units with at least one paramedic onboard.
  • Technology upgrades: Ambulances stationed in Dunwoody will be equipped with upgraded technology, including: GPS capabilities, radio-frequency identification gate access and traffic signal preemption devices. The costs for the upgrades will be shared equally between the City of Dunwoody and DeKalb County.
  • Greater collaboration: The cities within the DeKalb Municipal Association will have an opportunity to give input and review the county’s 2019 request for proposals for a new ambulance transport contract.
  • Monthly reporting: DeKalb County will provide monthly reports to the city of Dunwoody that track ambulance response times.

In May, the Dunwoody City Council declared an “EMS Emergency” with state officials seeking immediate relief for slow response times they said were putting resident lives at risk. The declaration followed years of complaints to DeKalb officials about ambulance response times.

That led the Region 3 EMS Council, which advises the state Department of Public Health about setting ambulance contracts and zones, to meet in August at Dunwoody City Hall and decide to form an “ad hoc study committee” of its members to review possible new zones, essentially giving Dunwoody the consideration it asked for.

In October, the study committee decided against recommending creating a new EMS zone for Dunwoody with the intention of reconsidering the idea at its meeting on Feb. 7. The full Region 3 EMS Council is slated to meet Feb. 14.

The delay in making a final decision is to allow time for DeKalb to finalize an EMS request for proposal to be put out to bid for a possible new ambulance provider. The county and its consultant, AP Triton, have also been meeting with city officials to come up with specific provisions they want included in the RFP.

“My main objective is to get Dunwoody citizens to the hospital on time and to make sure they receive an enhanced level of Emergency Medical Services. I have worked closely with DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond to come up with an agreement, and I look forward to presenting it to the City Council,” Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said in a press release.

Added DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond in the release, “The lives and safety of our citizens are our number one priority. Mayor Denis Shortal and I have worked cooperatively to ensure the highest level of countywide emergency ambulance service.”

Dunwoody City Councilmember Terry Nall, who has led the effort to create Dunwoody’s own EMS zone due to slow response times, stated in an email that the MOU is a “positive step.”

“It demonstrates our firm belief in Dunwoody that response times do matter,” he said. But Nall was also cautious, saying DeKalb has entered into past agreements intended to ensure quicker ambulance response times to Dunwoody but improvements failed to be made.

“Let’s not forget that most of DeKalb County’s prior EMS mitigation plans and promises were not previously implemented or maintained in place. Time will soon tell if this time around will be different,” Nall said. “For the benefit of our public safety, we all trust it will be fully implemented.”

Nall added Dunwoody’s request for its own EMS zone still stands. The measures agreed to by DeKalb County in this most recent agreement are standards the city has presented as what it would require if granted its own EMS zone.

“The lack of four static Dunwoody zone units is part of the reason for the GPS tracking units and real-time access to the data from city hall to monitor, as well as the monthly response times reports,” Nall said. “We want to ensure we have adequate advanced life support coverage in Dunwoody at all times.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.