Grady EMS won the support of a regional EMS council to provide ambulance service in south Fulton County. AJC FILE PHOTO

Grady EMS closer to providing south Fulton County ambulance service

A regional board has recommended Grady EMS take over ambulance service in south Fulton County following complaints of dangerously long response times, but a representative for the current provider said he intends to appeal that decision.

The recommendation, approved in a 10-1 vote by an eight-county EMS council, with six abstentions, still must be approved by state Public Health Commissioner J. Patrick O’Neal. Nancy Nydam, a spokesperson for the department, said he was traveling Thursday and was not expected to make an immediate decision.

“There really isn’t a timeline,” she said.

Terence Ramotar, the regional director for American Medical Response, said his company will continue to provide service in south Fulton during the transition. He said he is disappointed by the council’s decision, and plans to appeal if O’Neal follows the recommendation.

“We have grave concerns about the sustainability of the EMS system with that proposal,” Ramotar said of Grady’s plan. “We’re requesting a hearing.”

Grady said in its proposal that it intends to answer emergency calls within nine minutes, and non-emergency calls within 20 minutes. AMR said it can average 12 minutes for emergency calls and 15 minutes for non-emergency calls. Currently, AMR’s response time is about 14 minutes in the area, which has a population of about 200,000 people.

Larry Few, the fire chief in the year-old city of South Fulton, abstained from the vote. But he had pushed for the state to take another look at ambulance service in the area, and said afterward that he was pleased with the result. Data from 911 calls showed that AMR often had “extended” response times, Few said.

Patrick McDougal, the medical director for Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services, voted for the proposal. He said he appreciated that Grady was trying to offer a different approach to emergency response, by sending nurse practitioners to the scene of some non-emergency calls. In south Fulton, McDougal said, a lot of people call 911 because they don’t know how else to access health care. For those residents, sending an ambulance isn’t always the best solution.

The dearth of hospitals in the area, he said, makes south Fulton ripe for a change in the way health care is accessed.

“Because of the limited number of hospitals, there’s a benefit from a new model, a new plan to provide care,” he said. “The model they’re going to use will potentially provide a new, innovative approach to managing the needs of the community.”

The south Fulton consumer representative on the board, Michael Charles, also abstained from voting because he works for Grady. As a resident of the area, he said he’s not sure how he feels about the change. For years, he said, ambulance providers have had issues in south Fulton. It’s broad geography and the number of hospitals mean ambulances often have to travel far to pick up patients and get them to care.

Charles said he would rather see more access to specialty facilities than a new ambulance provider.

“Changing providers is almost like nibbling around the edges,” he said. “The same traffic’s going to be there, the same number of facilities.”