DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A private ambulance company that provides service to DeKalb County has accumulated more than $1 million in fines because of slow response times, a Channel 2 Action News investigation has found.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Wendy Halloran has learned corrective measure taken by American Medical Response haven't worked so far, and leaders in the city of Dunwoody said that is putting lives at risk.
An investigation by Channel 2 Action News has found that AMR has been fined for not meeting critically important response times, but has yet to pay back the money -- and the problem appears to be getting worse.
"It’s not getting better and we’ve got to make changes," DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester told Halloran about the ambulance service.
Halloran learned that AMR’s response times fell below the nationally accepted standards of just under nine minutes.
The service’s contract with DeKalb County is up at the end of December. Dunwoody City Councilman Terry Nall said it’s not soon enough.
“This contract should have been terminated years ago,” Nall told Halloran.
According to DeKalb County officials, AMR consistently has no ambulance available at the time of dispatch due to inadequate staffing.
"We had a pedestrian struck – 58-minutes response time. We had a restaurant with an emergency – 36-minute response time," Nall said.
The county asked AMR to increase the amount of ambulances, and it did.
Beginning in September 2017, the county began to fine AMR for not complying with the contract when it comes to response times.
The fines added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of seven months. However, the highest fine came last month, at $317,000.
The grand total: More than $1.5 million. So far, AMR hasn’t paid a penny.
"I think they have some challenges as a company, so I think that’s bleeding into their ability to provide services and even pay the fines at this point," Jester told Halloran. "We have every right to assess them and should be assessing them so I would look to be collecting them."
Jester told Halloran that she wants to clear up any misconceptions about emergency medical service in DeKalb County.
“Dekalb’s firefighters are EMTs and they’re on scene even if the transport vehicle has taken too long to get there and is not living up to their end of the bargain,” Jester said.
AMR Regional Director Terence Ramotar sent Halloran a statement, saying:
“We are in discussions with the County regarding the response time penalties – we are also looking for clarifications on some of the technical assumptions being used to determine penalty amounts. Applying penalties is a standard industry practice and during these negotiations, we remain committed to our relationship with the citizens of DeKalb County, the County Administration and the Fire Department. We expect to have the final determination of the penalty assessment completed soon.”
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