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911 callers waiting longer for ambulance service in Atlanta, data shows

Non-emergency calls are seeing the highest increase in response times.

ATLANTA — Emergency response times are increasing in Metro Atlanta, according to Grady EMS. 

11Alive obtained 911 calls in two different deadly shootings this month. Callers had no trouble reaching a dispatcher in both instances, but the dispatcher was on hold trying to reach Grady EMS for at least three to four minutes. 

Two people died, and four people were injured, including a six-year-old, in a park on the Southside of Atlanta. One person died at Odyssey Lounge on West Marietta St. in Northwest Atlanta. These calls prompted 11Alive to ask questions and look into the response times for emergency service.

Grady EMS sent 11Alive numbers showing the response times over the first five months of 2022. The numbers have remained unchanged in Echo, ineffective breathing calls, and Delta, or life-threatening medical emergency calls. Echo calls are averaging about 10 minutes and 30 seconds for ambulance service. Delta calls are averaging about 13 minutes and 30 seconds. Data shows that non-emergency calls have gone up nearly a minute in less than six months.

Credit: 11Alive

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Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond is on the public safety committee and has had to rely on Grady EMS in the past. He said Grady, as the city's number one ambulance provider, struggles with logistics and covering a wide area. Its response times have gone up, Bond said, because Grady needs more first responders and ambulances. The city is also working to hire more 911 staff, improve its current 911 call center and build a new one to reduce wait times.

"Our sympathies are with those who are negatively impacted by the failures of our system to adequately get people to the scene in a case of an emergency," Bond said. "We know that we’re dealing with lives, human lives, in real time every second there’s a potential delay.”

Bond spoke to the policy that makes Grady EMS ambulances stay on a scene until it is cleared unless emergencies dictate they take a victim or patient to the hospital. 

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"That’s an ambulance that’s not deployed, right? They’re not going back and forth to the hospital," Bond said. "They have to be on scene to make sure the victim is stabilized unless it’s so urgent they have to leave immediately.”

Major K.D. Johnson with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office has 30 years of experience in emergency response. He said wages and high pressure have spurred staff shortages across metro Atlanta. Johnson said increased pay and better treatment would help hire and retain more first responders.

"They feel unappreciated in a lot of different situations," Johnson said. "We’re expected to make a lot of quick decisions and you’re heavily scrutinized. Pay has been a big issue as it relates to public safety, because it’s almost a price war between agencies."

To address the response time issues, Bond said the city council had authorized Atlanta Fire Rescue to add more EMT stations across the city and expects the fire department to get more ambulances soon to reduce response times.

"Last time I checked, 911 is still ringing," Bond said. "It never stops ringing. People are having emergencies 24 hours a day, and we've got to continue to work to try and have the best response times and service as possible."

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