Adding another layer to a years-long saga, the city of Dunwoody has formally declared that DeKalb County is in violation of its agreement to ensure ambulances arrive on time to emergency calls.
A resolution passed by the City Council on Monday states the countywide ambulance provider American Medical Response has failed to meet required response times.
“Here we are, eight months later, we’re fulfilling our accountability role,” Councilman Terry Nall said during the meeting. “DeKalb County has not been compliant with its own (agreement) for any of the months that it’s been in place.”
All six of the council members voted to pass the resolution, while Mayor Denis Shortal was the sole “no” vote. The discussion grew tense at times as the mayor partially defended the county’s service and some council members strongly criticized it.
Dunwoody has complained about AMR's service before, prompting the city to enter into a special agreement with the county last year that set strict emergency response times: nine minutes on 90% of all "advanced life support" calls, which are critical calls that usually require paramedics.
Data provided by the Dunwoody Police Department suggests AMR has not met those targets for several months. In June, AMR answered 90% of the critical calls within 13 minutes. For “basic life support” calls, which are less urgent, AMR took about 15 minutes, 15 seconds.
The county, however, said it is not in breach of the contract, since it also sends firetrucks to medical calls. When firetrucks are factored in, it meets the emergency response time goals, the county said in a statement. All DeKalb firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians, and 14% are licensed paramedics.
But Nall said firetrucks do not offer the same care as ambulances, and that it was clear the discussions on the agreement have only been about ambulances.
“The fact that a firetruck arrives first has been the county’s defensive posture all along to cover its ambulance response performance failure,” Nall said before the meeting.
Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said the county’s response regarding firetrucks was “disingenuous.”
The ordinance states Dunwoody city leaders should try to set up a meeting with DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond and his staff in the next 10 days. That meeting would be “to understand what are they going to do differently,” Nall said.
DeKalb said in the statement it “remains open to discussing any compliance issues that may arise with the city.”
Dunwoody's ordinance also says the city should repeat its request to state officials to open a new ambulance zone for Dunwoody, which would be necessary for the city to manage its own ambulance service. Dunwoody previously made this request, which in part led to the special agreement with the county.
While discussing the measure, Shortal made a motion to postpone the measure until the end of September. No council member seconded the motion, so it was never voted on.
Shortal said he takes “a different view on this” issue. He said the city has made “great strides” in improving service over the past few years, including getting ambulances stationed at Dunwoody’s three fire stations.
“Sometimes you’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” he said.
Though he admitted the EMS system in Dunwoody is not perfect, Shortal said officials should take more factors into account other than the response time for 90% of calls.
Meanwhile, DeKalb voted late last month to extend its contract with AMR through September, as it continues to consider proposals for a future ambulance contract. AMR is one of three companies competing for that contract.