DUNWOODY, Ga. — Dunwoody’s shortest route to securing its own ambulance coverage area has evaporated.
Just before the city could present its case to a special EMS Council committee July 18, the panel voted to disband.
“We’re back to the beginning,” Dunwoody City Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said.
The committee never had the power to grant Dunwoody its own ambulance coverage zone, but it could recommend to the Region 3 EMS Council, which governs such matters, that the city deserves its own service zone. Right now, Dunwoody is part of a countywide coverage area operated through DeKalb County.
The Dunwoody City Council passed a resolution July 8 declaring DeKalb County in breach of its agreement with the city because ambulance response times for life-threatening calls has trended upward over the past six months. The contract went into effect in October, five months after Dunwoody declared an EMS state of emergency.
Dunwoody’s plight also spurred creation of the special ad hoc committee, made up of regional public safety leaders, which was charged with evaluating performance of local EMS services.
Officials from Dunwoody were prepared to reiterate their case for a separate coverage zone — apart from DeKalb County — when the committee met July 18 at Dunwoody City Hall.
The city has also taken issue with DeKalb County’s ambulance service provider, American Medical Response, saying the company has not demonstrated an ability to meet response times.
Before the meeting, Dunwoody Councilman Terry Nall said that because the county is “woefully behind” on a recommendation for a new ambulance provider, the meeting should be the time to say “enough is enough.” This is the time to recommend a change to the DeKalb ambulance zone, Nall said.
Instead, before Dunwoody representatives could speak, the ad hoc committee voted to suspend all future meetings and dissolve the panel until future reconstitution.
“(Our charge was) to allow the city of Dunwoody or any other municipalities in the current DeKalb zone to meet with an ad hoc committee to discuss their vision of EMS for their city,” said Clayton County Deputy Fire Chief Rich Elliott, a committee member. “I feel like we’ve accomplished that.”
The committee vote to disband followed a brief presentation from DeKalb Fire Chief Darnell Fullum, who listed improvements the county has made to EMS service since Dunwoody’s state of emergency declaration.
The fire chief pointed to the increase in the number of ambulances currently servicing Dunwoody, including one at each of three fire stations and an additional unit for peak hours.
A new rapid response unit will be added in late August, Fullum said, and the county has 20 new paramedics, who will soon replace posts formerly filled by firefighters or other volunteers.
The county recently purchased seven ambulances, three to replace old units, while the others will be deployed in yet to be determined locations, Fullum said.
“Improvement is happening every day,” he said.
Committee members said they were pleased with strong average response times for first responders.
Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal voiced concerns about EMS service, despite the improvements Fullum highlighted.
There are still too many outlier calls, Shortal said, referring to responses that take especially long to arrive. In May, 10 life-threatening calls were reported as outliers, meaning it took more than 24 minutes 51 seconds for an ambulance to arrive.
Shortal asked for an analysis of peak call times, so that ambulances could more efficiently be deployed to service the city. The unit at Fire Station 12 only received 65 calls in June, he said, but the response time standard of 9 minutes or less for 90 percent of calls was still not met.
June figures for Dunwoody show an ambulance arrived in 13 minutes or less for 90 percent of life-threatening calls.
The ability for DeKalb and Dunwoody officials to get together over the last year through the ad hoc special committee has been a big part of Dunwoody’s improvements, Shortal said.
Over the past two quarters, Dunwoody has nearly the best ambulance response time for life-threatening calls compared with the rest of DeKalb County. Still, over the past three months, those times remain at least four minutes slower than the 9-minute benchmark.
Terence Ramotar, AMR’s regional director, said he was happy with the improvement he had seen for service in DeKalb.
“The committee recognized today that there has been marked improvement,” Ramotar said. “While we’d love to get there instantaneously, you can tell that even if we put four (ambulances) in here — and there’s not a whole lot of volume — you still have to deal with the traffic. When you get to the hospital, they’re overcrowded, and you have to wait there for how long to get the ambulance back in service.”
Dunwoody is not calling it quits.
City Council members plan to go before the Region 3 EMS Council at their August meeting to reassert their call for the city’s own coverage zone.