A DeKalb County investigation found three dispatchers and a Care ambulance crew violated policy, resulting in a teenage soccer player with a head injury waiting 22 minutes for an ambulance.
The county dispatchers failed to put all of the information into the Computer-Aided Dispatch system on May 7 when 16-year-old Jonathan Brown fell to the ground after colliding with another soccer player at Adams Stadium, DeKalb Public Safety Director William “Wiz” Miller said Friday.
The three dispatchers have been disciplined, Miller said. A spokeswoman for the county said the dispatchers have not all been notified and she could not identify them or detail the extent of that discipline.
A Care ambulance crew also violated policy when they Googled the location of Adams Stadium instead of calling back to the dispatch center for help, Miller said.
This week, the county abruptly terminated its contract with Care, which provides some of DeKalb’s ambulance services. DeKalb gave no reason when it told the ambulance provider that its services will no longer be needed after July 5, said Doug Tisdale, the company’s vice president.
Investigations into three other complaints of slow response times are still pending, Miller said.
The county launched an investigation after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the delayed response to Brown’s concussion.
That investigation found an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who was working at the soccer game called 911, but he didn’t have the right address.
Dispatchers took the information from the deputy, including the closest intersection, but they didn’t put all of the location details into the computer system, according to a memo by Miller. Within four minutes, dispatchers gave that address to the Care ambulance crew.
The ambulance responded, but couldn’t find the stadium. Dispatch then gave the ambulance a second address, but still not the right one, the investigation found.
Meanwhile, the ambulance crew pulled out a laptop and used Google to look up the stadium’s address.
By the time, the ambulance arrived, 22 minuets had passed. The teen was treated for a concussion and released the next day, his father, Johnny Brown, told the AJC.
“I’m tickled they took some action,” the father said Thursday.
Tisdale said he understands the family is upset, but says Care is not to blame.
“DeKalb County completely controls and is responsible for our ambulances. That’s strictly a DeKalb dispatch issue,” Tisdale said Friday. “To say we’re going to terminate a contract because the ambulance crew didn’t call back to get more information, which the crew didn’t even know the dispatch center had, is ludicrous.”
Tisdale said he still has not received a complaint from DeKalb or a response to his request for a meeting to discuss the problem.
Miller said this wasn’t the first time he had a problem with Care.
“We’ve had three occasions where Care had extended response times,” Miller said.
Miller’s investigation found that computer problems were to blame for Travis Hite waiting about 30 minutes on May 21 for an ambulance to respond to his complaint of an allergic reaction to pine nuts. Crews dispatched an ambulance to the wrong address because of problems with the computer system, Miller said.
In April, the county updated its Computer-Aided Dispatch system, but not all of the addresses updated properly.
The county also is waiting on an asthmatic child’s family to file statements to help with an investigation into complaints of a delayed response for help.
And Miller said he is investigating why an ambulance wasn’t available to take 90-year-old Marie Jones to the hospital when she called about a heart problem.
All those issues will be addressed with additional staffing and more supervision, Miller said.
In addition to finding a new ambulance provider, DeKalb has added another operator to the 911 center and is holding battalion chiefs more accountable, Miller said.
Ultimately, the county will have to add more ambulances and more staff, including 45 more 911 operators and 12 supervisors, according to a report from Miller. That comes as the county is struggling with a $10 million shortfall in its budget and more than 500 workers leaving as part of an early retirement plan.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.