DUNWOODY, Ga. — Dunwoody has officially declared DeKalb County in violation of an agreement adopted last fall for emergency medical services.
The action, taken by the Dunwoody City Council July 8, follows eight months of ambulance response times that failed to meet benchmarks set in the memorandum of understanding between the two governments.
The resolution also comes a week before Dunwoody’s regional EMS ad hoc committee meets to discuss whether the city warrants its own ambulance zone. The committee meets at 10 a.m. July 18 in Dunwoody City Hall.
“You don’t come back after the first month and say you missed it, now you’re in breach,” Councilman Terry Nall said. “You don’t do it the second month; you don’t do it the third. I would argue though that eight months later, it’s time to do that, because we’ve seen no improvement with this.”
The goal set in the MOU is 9 minutes or less for 90 percent of calls. Ambulance response times for life-threatening calls for April, May and June were four minutes longer than the benchmark on 90 percent of calls.
Mayor Denis Shortal argues that response times should not be the only relevant statistic to determine whether Dunwoody and DeKalb are getting sufficient EMS coverage. The resolution passed 6-1, with Shortal casting the lone dissent.
The mayor pointed to first responder times for life-threatening calls that meet the criteria set in the memorandum of understanding. In the first quarter of 2019, first responders arrived in 8 minutes 57 seconds or less for 90 percent of life-threatening calls. Response times improved even further in the second quarter, averaging 9 minutes 11 seconds, according to county reports.
“The first person on the scene — if they are trained — they are the key to that individual’s survival,” Shortal said. “The service we’ve got today is far superior to any service we’ve had.”
DeKalb County has also complied with other parts of the MOU, he said, including providing three static ambulance units at each Dunwoody fire station and one additional unit during peak times. Before last fall’s agreement, there were no dedicated ambulances in Dunwoody.
Dunwoody is also scheduled to get a new rapid response vehicle at Station 21 in August, Shortal said, and a new fire truck with a longer ladder for tall buildings in Perimeter Center.
Shortal moved to postpone the resolution until September 30, in line with the contract expiration date for the county’s ambulance provider, American Medical Response.
The DeKalb County Commission extended AMR’s contract at the end of June for three months. DeKalb received three bids in May from ambulance service providers, EMS Grady, PatientCare Logistics Solutions and the incumbent AMR. The bids are still being reviewed by an evaluation committee, which will send its recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, according a statement from DeKalb County.
The current timeline for these procedures is unclear, DeKalb officials say, because there are multiple parties that would still need to approve the recommendation.
City Council members dealt with one unexpected wrinkle before the July 8 vote.
DeKalb County CEO Mike Thurmond sent an email to Dunwoody City Council members stating that the county was not in violation of its MOU with Dunwoody because first responder times were compliant.
“According to the official response time data, there has been no breach of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Dunwoody,” Thurmond wrote in the email. “The MOU requires timely emergency medical response service, which DeKalb County provides through a dual emergency response system.
“This system prioritizes the delivery of lifesaving care, utilizing licensed Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics on fire rescue vehicles in cooperation with a private emergency response vendor. The MOU does not require that an ambulance be the first responder.”
First responder times for life-threatening calls for June were 8 minutes 57 seconds or less for 90 percent of calls, according to county reports.
Nall said the email was a “stunning turn of events.”
Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said the county’s response was “disingenuous.”
“I’m concerned that now they’re playing word games,” Deutsch said. “This was never about who the first responder was when we started this journey. It was totally about getting people who needed to get to the hospital to the hospital.”
Councilwoman Pam Tallmadge said the email prompted her to vote for the declaration.
“I wanted to give Denny (Shortal) a second last night,” she wrote in an email. “We have made progress, but when we received the email from the CEO, it confirmed that DeKalb is not admitting there is a problematic issue at hand.”
The resolution sends a message from Dunwoody to the EMS Region 3 Council, the state public health commissioner and Gov. Brian Kemp to “expeditiously open a new ambulance zone for the City of Dunwoody to improve the economy, efficiency, and benefit of public welfare for its residents, businesses, and visitors.”