Setting the Record Straight on DeKalb County’s EMS System

(BPT) - Despite significant improvements, a lot of ink continues to be spilled on news reports and headlines describing DeKalb County’s “ambulance problem.” The reality is much different, and it is important to set the record straight with the undisputed facts, and the impressive milestones reached in record time as American Medical Response (AMR) continues to work with DeKalb County and other partners to build a world-class EMS system.

DeKalb County is one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions, and fourth highest in population growth per the most recent U.S. Census. Given this rapid growth, there have been difficulties, but also great progress, stabilization and successes that have not been widely reported within the press. Here are a few key areas to highlight:

  • Progress Made and Validated: The Region 3 EMS Council, which had convened a panel of experts to examine ambulance response times in DeKalb County, recently disbanded after finding that AMR had made significant improvements in response times and EMS services in DeKalb in fewer than 12 months. Today, on average, 911 callers receive care by a DeKalb County first responder — factoring in the trained EMTs from the DeKalb County Fire Department — within six to seven minutes while the closest available ambulance is dispatched. Dr. Eric Nix, Cobb County Fire Medical Director, who served as a member of the panel, said he was impressed, stating that “a lot of communities would like to have these [response times].” Indeed, it appears DeKalb County now has some of the best 911 response times in the metro Atlanta area.

  • Collaborative Model: By working collaboratively, DeKalb County officials and AMR were able to get a foothold in the new terrain, which has helped anticipate any bumps in the road and act quickly to fix them. Thanks to the leadership of DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, the County has embraced an innovative two-tiered system that streamlines EMS to ensure an order of need-based care. This allows first responders to triage true emergencies and save lives, while still addressing calls that are no less important, but less critical in nature. DeKalb County Fire Chief Darnell Fullum praised this visionary approach to EMS, stating that “improvement is happening every day.” To underscore the improvements under the tiered system — taking into account both the emergency and non-emergency calls — the current average ambulance transport response time countywide for all calls is 10 minutes.

  • Success Despite a Flawed Contract: AMR has been working within the confines of a contract that does not account for the swift and significant increase in population that has caused traffic congestion, overcrowded ERs and not kept pace with current reimbursement rates. Despite an uphill battle, AMR and DeKalb County officials have worked tirelessly to not only compensate for the contract’s flaws, but also to make investments and innovative improvements including new technology and equipment, training, and long-term staffing solutions to ensure DeKalb County’s EMS system continues to run at peak efficiency.

By making strides together, adopting best practices and investing in new solutions, DeKalb County’s partnership with AMR serves as long-term model for the metro Atlanta area as it continues its unprecedented growth.