• Records show repeated poor response times from ambulance company

    By: Mike Petchenik

    Updated:

    DUNWOODY, Ga. - A Dunwoody mother is joining the chorus of city and county leaders expressing concern about delayed ambulance response times in emergency situations.

    Shanna Tolbert’s daughter, Ireland, was born with a disorder that causes her to have severe seizures.

    “They’re prolonged and what’s called status epilepticus, and they do not stop until we get to a trauma center,” she told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik. “It’s a medical emergency. She turns blue. She is not breathing.”

    Tolbert said she and her husband have had to take Ireland to the hospital at least nine times in her short life, and each time, they’ve called 911 to get an ambulance.

    “The first few calls, we waited on the ambulance, and we waited and we waited,” she said. “That’s what you expect from your ambulance service, that they’re going to show up when you call 911.”


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    After one call, Tolbert said it took 28 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to her home.

    “We waited, and the whole time, my daughter is continuing to seize and she’s blue,” she said.

    After that, when an ambulance didn’t arrive quickly, the Tolberts rushed her to the hospital themselves.

    “It’s extremely dangerous to put a seizing child into a car seat and race to the hospital,” the mother said.

    For months, Dunwoody leaders have been raising concerns about delayed response times by the county’s ambulance provider, AMR.

    At a meeting a few weeks ago, AMR officials blamed the delay on Dunwoody’s geography, hospital delays and traffic.

    “We remain committed to working with DeKalb County,” said AMR’s Terence Ramotar.

    Ramotar told a subcommittee of the Georgia EMS Council that response times across DeKalb County were very good.

    But records obtained by our investigative partners at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution show otherwise.

    DeKalb officials have said response times shouldn’t be any longer than 9 minutes. Among the key findings:

    •    105,000 — the number of calls received by public safety dispatchers in DeKalb County last year.
    •    52,000 — the number of calls that were for emergencies.
    •    Nearly 15 minutes — Dunwoody reported ambulance response times for 90% of calls in 2017.
    •    10 minutes, 52 seconds — The city’s 90% average for a total of 4,264 incidents in a recent, 12-month period.
    •    13 minutes, 22 seconds — Stonecrest’s 90% average response time for a total of 7,443 incidents.
    •    12 minutes, 18 seconds — Doraville’s 90% average response time for 1,505 incidents.
    •    11 minutes, 17 seconds — Chamblee’s 90% average response time for 2,975 incidents.
    •    16 minutes, 2 seconds — Decatur’s 90% average response time for 227 incidents.

    “It confirmed that the problem we’re experiencing in Dunwoody is duplicated across the county,” said Councilman Terry Nall. “These are excuses, is what they are.”

    Nall will be among city and county leaders meeting Thursday with a DeKalb County consultant hired to assist in rebidding the ambulance contract at the end of this coming year.

    Nall doesn’t believe AMR should be in the running.

    “It’s heartbreaking to see that the government that exists, first and foremost, to provide public safety is failing the residents,” he said.

    Dunwoody leaders are also calling for the state to create a separate ambulance zone for its city, or at the very least for North DeKalb County.

    “DeKalb has had the same shape, the same geography for well over 100 years,” he said. 

    “It existed prior to the contract that AMR took on, it exists today and will exist, quite frankly, years from now.”

    AMR officials did not respond to Petchenik’s follow-up email seeking comment on what the records show.

    Tolbert told Petchenik she wants something to change.

    “It is the most helpless feeling in the world to watch your child suffering and for you to feel like you’re doing the right thing by calling 911 and pleading for help and nobody to show up,” she said. “It’s terrifying and it’s infuriating and it’s our hope that people would pay attention and that changes would be made.”

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