Sandy Springs is considering adding three ambulances to its next contract with provider American Medical Response to keep up with demand and continue meeting response time targets.
Fire Chief Keith Sanders encouraged other cities that have problems with response times to take up its strategy of paying more for additional ambulances. AMR is the same provider that has been criticized by the city of Dunwoody for being slow to respond. Officials in that city have said they would not pay for additional ambulances to ensure response times are met.
The contract is expected to be voted on by the Sandy Springs City Council at its June 18 meeting. The new contract would add one advanced life support ambulance that operates 24 hours and two basic life support ambulances.
Under the current contract, which expires June 30, AMR provides three 24-hour and two 12-hour ALS ambulances. An additional ambulance was added in 2016 that “significantly improved coverage” and helped maintain the target response time, Sanders said.
The new contract would bring the total to four 24-hour ALS ambulances, two 12-hour ALS ambulances and two 12-hour BLS ambulances. The additional ambulances would be paid for by a subsidy of $260,000 per year for five years. The base rates would also rise under the new agreement from $1,280 to $1,725 per ALS emergency response, and from $1,280 to $1,451 per BLS emergency response, according to the contract.
Sanders said that the current amount of ambulances do not adequately meet the weekly call demand and are not always available.
“Adding three additional ambulances will significantly improve coverage and I anticipate improvement in response times as well,” Sanders said in an email.
The response time agreed to in the contract is 7 minutes and 59 seconds. According to a city presentation, AMR met that in 2018 94% of the time.
Under the new contract, ambulances would now be dispatched by ChatComm, the city’s provider of 911 services, instead of AMR. The ambulances would also be equipped with new data receivers used by all Sandy Springs fire trucks that allow call information to be received quicker, Sanders said.
When speaking in 2018 about wanting more ambulances in the 2019 contract, Sanders said they were needed due to an increase in car crashes, traffic and population. At that time, the typical response was closer to 11 minutes, but has since lowered.
Sanders said paying more to get more ambulances and keep responses down has proven successful. When asked about Dunwoody’s problems, Sanders said Sandy Springs’ strategy should be considered by other nearby cities that have issues.
“Since Sandy Springs inception, city leaders have financially invested in reducing ambulance response times through subsidies and constant oversight of the daily operations to ensure the citizens receive the best in emergency response,” Sanders said. “Surrounding cities should seriously consider subsidizing for an enhanced service as well.”
Dunwoody has been in a battle with DeKalb County for several years over its contract with AMR due to slow response times and is seeking to break off from the county to create its own EMS zone. Paying for additional ambulances to meet response times is not an option, said City Council member Terry Nall, who is leading the charge for a separate EMS zone.
“DeKalb County has a contract performance failure with Dunwoody. There is no way I would support paying DeKalb County or AMR any amount of money,” he said. “DeKalb County must fulfill its contractual obligations. The county is not meeting its contractual obligations for ambulance response times.”
AMR’s contract with DeKalb County expires June 30, but the county has already extended it until Sept. 30, according to a DeKalb spokesperson.
-Dyana Bagby contributed.