Letters to the EditorNews

National EMS Defends Performance

National EMS has been the 911 ambulance service provider to Athens-Clarke County since 2009, and we are a proud part of the community. We have always operated within the standards of our contract, and we work with our community partners to ensure that EMS system performance remains exemplary. 

In our efforts for continuous quality improvement, National EMS and the EMS Oversight Committee, which includes representatives from the Athens-Clarke County Commission, Oconee County, the University of Georgia and hospital leadership, track numerous key performance indicators. The data is reviewed by the EMS Oversight Committee to evaluate the  overall quality of emergency medical care provided to the community. These metrics include clinical diagnosis trends, patient outcomes and response times. Athens-Clarke County has the fastest response times in Region 10 for Priority 1 emergency responses with lights and sirens, according to a report provided by the Georgia State Office of EMS.

For any call that falls outside of the response time requirement, National EMS and the EMS Oversight Committee review the incident for intervention and/or opportunity for system improvement. When we reviewed the response to Barrow Elementary School in August mentioned in a recent Flagpole article, National EMS took immediate action to both address deficiencies and to improve future response to emergencies within the school system. 

After our communications center received the call, National EMS dispatched an available ambulance from the nearest station to the school. The ambulance request was canceled by the school nurse after 14 minutes. By that time, our ambulance was in the vicinity, but our EMS personnel did not enter the building. In our initial evaluation of the delayed response, we determined that the ambulance crew assigned to the call violated National EMS’s policies and did not act with sufficient urgency for a Priority 1 emergency. The delayed response was solely caused by willful disregard of company policies by one part-time National EMS employee. This former employee’s actions were unacceptable and incompatible with the high standards we set for our employees. National EMS took immediate action to terminate the individual’s employment, and our actions based on our internal investigation were reported to the EMS Oversight Committee. 

Additionally, we reviewed the call itself to gather all available information. When the fire department attempted to locate the record of the 911 call, the Athens-Clarke County E-911 Center was initially unable to locate the 911 call in the system. Athens-Clarke County Fire Department leadership in turn reported to National EMS that the call was not in the county’s 911 system. Based upon all of the information available at that point, including information from the fire department that the 911 call record could not be located, National EMS surmised that the call most likely came in through the company’s non-emergency medical transport scheduling line. This number is published only to medical facilities to schedule medical transport and is not designed for 911 emergencies. 

In a subsequent search, 911 center personnel apparently found the record of this call in the system’s records. When National EMS initially made its report of this incident to the commission and the Oversight Committee, the report was based on reliable information provided by county agencies, and we believed it to be true.

Regardless of where the call originates, National EMS’s communications center treats all calls equally and responds with appropriate urgency and resources based on a national standard of pre-arrival instructions that professional dispatchers use to determine medical priority for ambulance calls. 

The Athens-Clarke County 911 Center dispatches the Athens-Clarke County Fire Department, including first response on medical calls. National EMS also can request that the 911 center assign a fire department first response if needed. In this instance, the Athens-Clarke County E-911 Center dispatcher did not dispatch the fire department, and National EMS did not request fire response. A licensed nurse already was with the patient at the school administering medical care at the time of the call and throughout the ensuing response.

National EMS has worked proactively and collaboratively with the school system to improve communication and further expand collaboration between the school nurses and EMS personnel in the event medical emergency services are needed. Through these regular meetings, a potential issue with the school phone system was discovered at an isolated location. We reported the potential issue, and we are pleased to hear that the phone systems are functioning correctly. 

Though our performance is above the standards set by our contract, continuous improvement is always a priority. National EMS is proud to serve as the only nationally accredited EMS Provider in our 10-county region, and one of only eight CAAS-accredited providers in Georgia. Through investigations of isolated incidents when they occur and continuous initiatives to improve outcomes, we strive to ensure that any issues are addressed quickly and effectively so that Athens-Clarke County will continue to receive the best possible emergency medical care available.

Atkins is the director of operations at National EMS.