EMS agreement: Piedmont Athens Regional may share some ambulance data

UPDATE (6/14/24): The commission unanimously approved Myer’s revised proposal for EMS data reporting. The proposal uses national standards in data reporting, no longer relying on the response time averages that Rafal called “misleading.” The proposal also has support from National EMS, the company which provides ambulance services in Athens and Oconee County. “Hopefully this is the beginning of some fruitful, transparent conversations about what’s going on because it sounds like we all want the best thing in terms of emergency response for our community,” Myers said. Given the changes, Rafal now considers this agreement to be “a big step forward towards transparency.”

ACC staff have reached a tentative agreement with Piedmont Athens Regional regarding transparency on emergency medical response time data. Piedmont Athens Regional has agreed to provide quarterly reports and a semi-annual presentation to the mayor and commission including metrics like the number of ambulances and their coverage zones, average response times and a breakdown of the top complaints received about the service.

Ambulance services in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties have been run by National EMS, a for-profit company, since 2009. In 2013, the two county governments, Athens Regional and Saint Mary’s hospitals established an oversight committee to track National EMS’ performance regarding response times and other metrics. 

The oversight committee carried out their responsibilities behind closed doors until 2020, when they stopped meeting altogether after learning they were subject to Georgia sunshine laws.

The proposed agreement calls for the oversight committee to be officially dissolved, with quarterly reports and semi-annual presentations taking its place. These data will be publicly available unlike information presented to the oversight committee.

Examples of the types of data that will be provided to the mayor and commission quarterly.
Examples of the types of data that will be provided to the mayor and commission quarterly.

Saint Mary’s hospital has recently made a similar agreement with Oconee county. The four entities share the cost of ambulance service across the two counties.

Commissioners generally seemed pleased with the agreement at last week’s meeting.

Commissioner Jesse Houle
Commissioner Jesse Houle

“I’m very encouraged that we’re replacing the oversight committee model, which clearly hasn’t functioned. I’ve been appointed to that my entire tenure on this commission and we’ve never met,” Commissioner Jesse Houle said. 

Even so, Houle and Commissioner Carol Myers expressed a few concerns that they’d like to see addressed before voting to approve the final document. Both Houle and Myers mentioned the need for clarity on whether the agreement guarantees that paramedics will be present in certain ambulances.

“Other communities do have paramedics on their ambulances. I’m curious why this contract wouldn’t stipulate that,” Houle asked.

Myers said that having paramedics on higher-tier advanced life support ambulances was required back in 2013 and that she will ask for changes to this agreement before the vote.

Local public safety advocate Sam Rafal, who has been a persistent critic of National EMS, expressed serious concerns about the agreement. Not only is he worried about the lack of a requirement for paramedics, but Rafal told Flagpole that crucially important information would be missing from Piedmont’s quarterly reports.

The mayor and commission would not receive National EMS’ raw response time data if this agreement is finalized, only the mean of all response times. This could be a problem, because even if the commission finds National EMS’ average response time to be satisfactory, Rafal says there could still be many patients suffering through extremely long responses which would be hidden within a “misleading” average.

“The only way we’re ever going to get transparency in terms of response times and level of care is if we fully implement the commission-approved upgrades to our 911 center where we handle all 911 calls from beginning to end, including medical calls,” Rafal said, referencing a decision made in 2020 that has still not been implemented.

Currently, the ACC 911 center dispatches fire and police vehicles but does not handle dispatching for medical calls, which they pass along to National EMS.

Help APN continue covering local news for the Athens area!
Please consider becoming a member or giving a one-time donation via PayPal.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *