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DeKalb moves closer to re-signing controversial ambulance provider

AMR has contracted with the county since 2013, before entering into a series of contract extensions.
AMR has contracted with the county since 2013, before entering into a series of contract extensions.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

After DeKalb County determined its ambulance company was too slow in bringing residents live-saving care, a group of DeKalb commissioners now recommend the county sign the same company to another five-year contract.

The entire County Commission must vote to approve the contract with American Medical Response, which has been the county’s ambulance service provider since 2013. The three commissioners who sit on the county’s public safety committee voted in favor of the plan, but there was still some skepticism in the room.

“This is the same show pony that failed to perform at the first curtain open,” said DeKalb Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, who was elected to the commission a year ago. Despite the caution, she voted in favor of a new contract with AMR.

The new contract includes expectations for response times based on the severity of the emergency and lays out penalties when those benchmarks aren’t met. But commissioners also wanted to see performance updates like annual reports and to keep the ability to terminate the contract at any time.

In order for us to be here, we had to acknowledge some omission in 2013,” Cochran-Johnson said.

DeKalb's ambulance saga started in 2013 when the county signed a contract with AMR that leaders say was so vague it was essentially unenforceable. Residents complained about slow response times. In July, the Northside city of Dunwoody passed a resolution saying AMR had failed to meet the flat response time of under nine minutes 90% of the time.

On Tuesday, DeKalb fire chief Darnell Fullum said the new contract sets three tiers of response times that “give a more realistic approach.”

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For things like heart attacks and seizures, the response time must be within 12 minutes. For issues like animal bites and eye injuries, the expectation is under 15 minutes. And in the least-serious emergency category, including headaches and situations involving minor bleeding, AMR must arrive within 30 minutes to stay in compliance.

DeKalb won’t pay AMR a fee, according to paperwork from the county. Instead AMR will collect its fees from clients, insurers, Medicare and Medicaid.

As previously reported, the recommendation to keep AMR was made after a five-person evaluation committee used a scoring system that rated bidders on things like technical approach, project management and the finances. According to paperwork from the county, AMR scored 85 out of 110. The other bidder, PatientCare Logistics Service, scored 78.

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Cochran-Johnson questioned the grading and said some of it seemed too subjective. Fullum, who was asking the committee to recommend AMR, said the grading process was fair and accurately assessed quality.

No one from either company spoke during the meeting.

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The county has spent millions of dollars for the safety and welfare of its residents.