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Georgia County Terminates Ambulance Contract

DeKalb County, which has faced complaints of slow response times to 911 calls, has terminated its contract with an ambulance company and is looking for a new provider.

The company, Care Ambulance, has said that an incorrect address led to the delay in one of the complaints, and a complainant says the same thing occurred in another case.

This week, Care received a letter from DeKalb saying that the contract would be terminated effective July 5, said Doug Tisdale, the company's vice president.

"They didn't give us any reason whatsoever," Tisdale told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday.

The termination means 123 paramedics, drivers and other employees will lose their jobs, Tisdale said.

A county spokeswoman confirmed that the contract was terminated but said she could not give any details why.

"The county and its citizens will not be without service," said Shelia Edwards, a spokeswoman for the DeKalb CEO. "A new company will be selected to provide temporary service when Care's contract ends."

DeKalb is now preparing a request for bids for a permanent ambulance provider, she said.

DeKalb signed a three-year contract with Care in March 2008 to provide nine ambulances. (DeKalb Fire and Rescue runs an additional 24 ambulances.)

The contract included a clause that allowed DeKalb to terminate at any time without cause.

Tisdale said he was shocked by the termination, especially after DeKalb's fire chief asked Care on May 20 to add more ambulances to help with the county's call volume.

"We have also purchased tens of thousands of dollars of equipment when requested to do so by the county," Tisdale wrote county commissioners Thursday. "We added additional units when requested and have been at the beck and call of the fire department from day one."

The request for more ambulances came just days after DeKalb opened an investigation into the emergency response to a 16-year-old student who suffered a head injury while playing soccer at Adams Stadium near Lakeside High School.

Records show Jonathan Brown of Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston waited 22 minutes --- four times the county's average response time --- for an ambulance. Care said the delay was because a 911 caller provided an incorrect address.

The boy's father, Johnny Brown, said Thursday that he never heard from the county.

"I'm tickled they took some action," the father told the AJC. "I just hope it all gets better."

The response to Brown's injury and at least two other complaints are still under investigation, Edwards said.

Travis Hite called for help May 21 after going into anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction to pine nuts. The dispatcher entered the wrong address to Hite's Carlisle Woods apartment. It took more than 30 minutes for an ambulance to respond.

"I've listened to the 911 tapes, and flat out the 911 dispatchers sent them to the wrong address," Hite told the AJC. "Clearly it had nothing to do with the EMTs or Care Ambulance."

Hite, 33, said he saved his own life by giving himself a shot before the ambulance arrived.

Marie Jones, 90, said she called 911 to report chest pains. A firetruck arrived at her Dunwoody retirement home about 25 minutes later, but no ambulance. Her son drove her to the hospital after police told her there were no ambulances available.

A lawsuit is also pending in DeKalb Superior Court for the family of 74-year-old Ann Bartlett, who died in a house fire in Dunwoody in January. Bartlett called 911, but the call dropped. An investigation found firefighters responded but did not get off their trucks because they didn't see any signs of fire. Firefighters returned five hours later after neighbors reported the house was in flames. Bartlett was found dead inside.

On Thursday, Tisdale requested a meeting with county commissioners and the county's public safety director.

"Come next month, the services in DeKalb are fixing to be reduced drastically," he said. "If I lived here, I would have a lot of questions."



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