Letters to the EditorNews

National EMS Is Too Slow

I’m writing in response to Chris Dowd’s Feb. 24 article in Flagpole regarding National EMS misrepresenting ambulance response times at the July 9, 2019 Athens-Clarke County work session. The article centered around multiple delayed ambulance responses to John Cooper’s critically ill child. This deception is part of a pattern and is consistent with the findings of a recent Flagpole investigation that concluded, “National EMS, the private ambulance service serving Athens, made false statements to the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission, police and fire departments, and an oversight committee regarding an emergency call from Barrow Elementary.” 

The truth matters. Transparency matters. And in time-sensitive, life-threatening emergencies, seconds matter. Even though response time starts the moment National EMS receives the call, they choose to deceive the public by fabricating response time from when their ambulance got en route to the call. This could conceal several minutes of response time from public view. This is both a flagrant violation of their contract (Service Level Agreement Article III, 3.2b) and of patient care.

So, how good are National EMS’ response times? They are so good that you can’t see them. They are concealed from public view. They are so good that they have to be manipulated and misrepresented to elected officials and the general public. They are so good that National EMS spent considerable time and effort trying to convince us that response times don’t matter. Laughable, really. Tragic if it’s your child or loved one.

Cooper’s house is 2.8 miles from the ambulance station at Gaines School Road. That should make for a rapid response, unless that ambulance is having to come from further away, perhaps even another county. This scenario is made much more likely by the business model used by National EMS that is the antithesis of public safety. National EMS is owned by an out of state, private equity firm. They routinely and systematically use taxpayer-subsidized 911 ambulances to run non-emergency transports that don’t have anything to do with 911, or public safety. It’s a fatally flawed business model, and they seem to take cover in being a private company that can do what it wants.

Athens-Clarke County (the smallest county in the state) is in fact overwhelmingly urban. National EMS met the response time standard to Cooper’s house 0% of the time from the perspective of the patient and only 20% of the time from the perspective of the contract. The response time standard for urban areas is to respond within 9 minutes, 90% of the time.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) establish urban and rural designations for ambulance services based on zip code. They did this “in response to several requests from the ambulance community for a national breakout of the geographic area definitions (rural, urban and super-rural) by zip code.” That table can be found at It clearly shows all Athens-Clarke County zip codes designated urban, including 30683, where Cooper and his family live. Unfortunately, National EMS continues to create smokescreens to conceal dangerously long response times. Transparency in public safety operations is critical moving forward.