Back at the dispatch center, operators checked for ambulances but found none available in either south Fulton or the next-nearest EMS area in Atlanta.
On at least three calls that followed over 90 minutes, callers relayed increasingly frantic concern for his condition. In Phinnizee’s own call to 911, his speech was slurred and slow.
The harrowing incident illustrates the barriers to health care that already affect people in areas with below-average income levels and less private insurance, like southern Fulton County.
With the impending closure of the emergency department at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center South, in East Point, “unfortunately the South Fulton community will likely experience longer response times due to ambulances having to travel further,” said John Hanson, senior vice president of Grady Emergency Medical Services.
At some point, 911 operators upgraded Phinnizee’s emergency to a higher level, but according to Fulton records there were still no ambulances. According to Grady, within one minute of Phinnizee being upgraded, an ambulance responded.
In the final call, a friend drove to a nearby fire station himself while on the phone to the dispatcher and told the dispatcher that he could see on the road that in fact no emergency vehicles were on the way.
Fulton County runs the dispatch center, and Grady Emergency Medical Services provides the ambulances in the area where Phinnizee lives. Fulton told the AJC that emergency response is complex and it acted appropriately in the case. Grady said it has been working with Fulton County to try to improve EMS resources in the area.
Phinnizee, who was treated at Wellstar AMC South, is still recovering from the stroke at his home. He said the ambulance crew that picked him up said there was no time to get him to Grady Memorial Hospital, located a few miles further north.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Grady,” he said. “I’m a Grady baby. But for people who don’t have enough time, it takes a long time. That could be a life determining situation. It’s all about the timing.”