Letters to the EditorNews

Hospitals’ Data on Ambulance Response Times Is Misleading

This is my response to the Mayor and Commission in regards to the performance by the EMS Oversight Committee and National EMS at the July 9, 2019 work session (City Dope, July 17). Even though we were partly responsible for the meeting, by protocol, we were not allowed to speak. 

Our Athens-Clarke County Police Department has recommended that our state-of-the-art 911 communications center take over all 911 dispatching in our community to include medical. We currently have a system where you have to tell your emergency twice, once to ACCPD and once to a privatized 911 dispatcher. This can be confusing, frustrating and inefficient. We need to expedite the implementation of this recommendation (Option 4 of the study) which was originally made in August of 2017 and reiterated in April of this year. Doing so will improve efficiency, enhance transparency and save lives.

The hospitals currently own the ambulance licenses, but have offered to hand them over to the ACC government. Athens-Clarke County should take over the EMS licenses offered to us by the hospitals. This in no way obligates ACC to run EMS itself. Taking over the EMS licenses would give ACC complete control of the data and accountability of the system. We would have the option to rebid a contract that is designed to meet our needs, as opposed to the needs of the hospitals, which includes using 911 ambulances to get patients who no longer need 911 out of the hospitals. 

EMS oversight committee meetings should be open to the public. Privatized public safety needs more transparency, not less. National EMS and the hospitals have refused to allow public access to these meetings for over a decade, despite the fact that they deal directly with matters of public safety and welfare and they are receiving a public subsidy. 

In regards to the “oversight” committee’s presentation of the data, I defer to Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” 

We simply can’t trust what we can’t verify. The only way to verify the data is to have access to the raw data, and National EMS has refused any access to the raw data for over 10 years. When we finally obtained some of the data through a state open records request, we discovered over 31,000 delayed “911 emergency responses” from 2014–2017, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. To date, neither National EMS nor the “oversight” committee has accounted for a single one of these calls.

Whoever provides ambulance service in Athens-Clarke County should do so with protected 911 ambulances. When is it a good idea to take a 911 ambulance out of its coverage area to run a non-emergency transport that has nothing to do with 911? The answer is clear—never! Unfortunately, in the current system, it happens all the time, and is akin to playing Russian Roulette with our fellow citizens.

Rafal is the EMS response initiative coordinator with Athens for Everyone.