Residents in need of an ambulance ride in DeKalb County will soon see a 50 percent jump in what they pay for the trip.
The DeKalb County Commission agreed Tuesday to allow Rural/Metro Corporation to increase the fees it charges for medical transport. The jump from $500 to $750 for basic transportation — a ride to the hospital with no advanced-trained personnel on board — brings fees in line with what the service cost in Cobb.
“I don’t have a problem with the increase. I think the fees are reasonable,” commissioner Kathie Gannon said of the unanimous vote to raise rates.
Fees will go up for all the company’s services, from providing oxygen to responding to calls where no transportation to a hospital is required. Rural/Metro officials did not return a call for comment but submitted documents to the county showing an average loss of $28 on each of its 32,000 hospital trips this year.
Basic transport fees in the region range from a low of $343 in Douglas County to the $1,628 that Grady Ambulance charges in Fulton County. The basic service costs $975 in Gwinnett.
Still, DeKalb’s decision to raise the fees comes just as officials are reviewing bids from other private providers to handle medical transportation for the county’s fire/rescue department.
Rural/Metro has been providing “emergency” no-bid service for nearly two years, as the DeKalb studied how to outsource ambulance service in the hopes of saving taxpayer dollars. The county continues to operate 14 ambulances, while the company operates 15.
Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton said that three private firms submitted bids to completely take over the ambulance service. Once officials evaluate those bids, fees could change again, maybe as soon as the end of the year, Walton said.
The possibility of another increase so soon irritated some residents, already upset that the county raised rates with just two weeks’ consideration.
Viola Davis, a registered nurse, complained that a recent trip to the emergency room cost $680 for care, but that the bill for the ride there was $600.
“As a critical care nurse, I’m trying to figure out why the ambulance should cost as much as the emergency room,” Davis said. “If you privatized this service, it was supposed to be cheaper. If it’s not, why do it?”
Purchasing officials will take about three weeks to review bids and make a recommendation for ambulance outsourcing to the commission. A transition period probably will last at least two months so that any new rates would likely take effect early next year.
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