DUNWOODY, Ga. — Dunwoody remains plagued with ambulance response times that exceed targets set when DeKalb County signed a new contract in January with its provider, American Medical Response.
The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners is set to extend that contract this week for three more months.
The county has received emergency ambulance service bids from EMS Grady, PatientCare Logistics Solutions and the incumbent AMR.
The state ad hoc EMS council for Dunwoody’s ambulance zone will meet July 18 to discuss whether DeKalb County may warrant being divided into multiple zones, potentially having different ambulance service providers for each zone.
Whatever course it pursues, improved response times can’t come fast enough for Shanna Tolbert.
On June 4, Tolbert’s daughter was turning blue. Little oxygen was getting to the 4-year-old’s brain and other vital organs as she seized for nearly 12 minutes. In a recording of her call to dispatchers, Shanna asked the 9-1-1 dispatcher where the ambulance was.
“There’s actually a medic unit on scene,” the dispatcher responded.
“There is not,” Tolbert said. “That is incorrect information. There is nobody on scene. I’m looking out my window. Nobody.”
Minutes ticked by. Ireland still seized while her parents attempted to comfort the toddler who suffers from status epilepticus, a life-threatening condition that causes seizures.
A fire truck arrived about a minute later, but an ambulance never arrived on scene until about 15 minutes into the call. All the while, the family’s oximeter measured dangerously low blood oxygen saturation levels.
It wasn’t the first time the Tolberts have had to wait. In 2017, while waiting on an ambulance, they gave up and drove Ireland to the hospital themselves.
On another call when her daughter was 18 months old, Tolbert told the 911 dispatcher: “Unfortunately I don’t trust you, because you don’t really know. I don’t trust DeKalb County. I don’t trust that they will be here.”
Dunwoody changed its dispatch service system in 2011 to Chattahoochee River 911 Authority, a move prompted because switchovers from its previous service to DeKalb County still had to go through DeKalb County 911 with a one-button transfer system, a process that could delay dispatch of vehicles by up to 90 seconds.
That process improved in 2015, when Dunwoody implemented a computer aided dispatch system to dispatch emergency vehicles directly without having to go through a third party.
Even so, the Tolberts are still trying to figure out what happened June 4, why the dispatcher reported to her that an ambulance was on scene.
Dunwoody Councilman Terry Nall said he still believes in ChattComm.
“It’s a stellar service overall, based on today’s standards for 911 centers and dispatch services,” he said. “It is 99.9 percent a stellar service.”
Nall said the issue is with DeKalb County and American Medical Response rather than ChattComm.
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said DeKalb County still hasn’t provided an explanation for how the dispatcher misunderstood the ambulance’s location.
A training officer took over the call two minutes in, because the initial call taker was in training, Grogan said.
The transfer of information from ChattComm to DeKalb County dispatch went through correctly, Grogan said. The miscommunication may have come from the ambulance and when it told the dispatcher it was on scene, but he is still waiting on that information.
Since signing their memorandum of understanding with Dunwoody last fall, DeKalb County agreed to issue monthly reports logging whether AMR met response times of 9 minutes or less for 90 percent of life-threatening calls and 15 minutes or less for 90 percent of non-life-threatening calls.
In May, AMR was non-compliant in one or both categories for the seventh straight month. Records show AMR responded to 90 percent of life-threatening calls in 13 minutes 21 seconds and responded to non-life-threatening calls in 18 minutes 5 seconds.
While waiting on an ambulance, minutes feel like hours, Tolbert said.
“It’s a very bizarre position to be in,” she said. “To be so desperate but have to rely on this service anyway.”
The Dunwoody City Council’s next meeting is July 8, and Nall says he asked for a placeholder at that meeting to decide on a resolution or other action item to send to the state ad hoc committee. Nall wants a strong statement from the entire council, not just one member.