DeKalb County Officials Investigate Delayed Ambulance

DeKalb County officials are investigating why it took an ambulance 22 minutes — more than four times the county’s average response time for a trauma call — to get to a soccer player with a severe head injury.

The student is the latest victim of what residents are calling a faulty emergency system.

“This is totally unacceptable,” Ella Smith, vice president of Lakeside High School’s soccer booster club, wrote to school board members. “In some injuries it may be extremely important to get individuals to the hospital much faster than this.”

Jonathan Brown, 16, and his team from Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston were visiting DeKalb last week in the state soccer playoffs.

Brown, the team’s goalie, collided with a Lakeside player at Adams Stadium on Friday night. He fell, grasping his head, while several parents and coaches called 911, parents said.

County dispatch records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show the first call was received at 7:58 p.m. Dispatch records show the call was listed as “traumatic injuries.”

Four minutes later, an ambulance was dispatched. However, the ambulance didn’t show up at the soccer field until 8:20 p.m., according to the records. The county’s average response time for a trauma call is slightly more than five minutes.

“It took awhile for the ambulance to get there,” said Eddie Payne, Upson-Lee’s athletic director. “The Lakeside parents and staff were helpful in administering care and showing concern. But it took a little longer than we would have liked to get help.”

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said he was concerned about the delay.

“It was dispatched right, but we’re looking to see why it took so long for the ambulance to get there,” Rader told the AJC on Wednesday. “I don’t think it was an equipment issue, but I’m still concerned about the response time. Fortunately it was a trauma call but the victim survived.”

Brown, who suffered a concussion, was released from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston the next day and is now back in school, Payne said.

DeKalb school spokesman Dale Davis said the district staffs games with school resource officers but not paramedics. Football is the only sport where a paramedic is on site.

The schools rely on the county’s Fire and Rescue Department to respond to other emergencies, Davis said.

But the county may be too busy to handle some of those calls.

Two weeks ago, Marie Jones, 90, had to wait 25 minutes for an ambulance to respond to her call for help. And when the paramedics arrived at her Dunwoody retirement home, they didn’t have an ambulance, she told the AJC on Wednesday.

“They were in a fire truck,” she said. “I believe they said all the ambulances were all out busy.”

So Jones had her son drive her to the hospital, where she was treated for heart problems.

At any time, DeKalb has 25 to 33 ambulances in service, county officials said. Some are run by the county’s Fire and Rescue Department. Others are operated by Care Ambulance, which the county has a contract with.

Family members of 4-year-old Marquel Peters, who was struck by a stray bullet while in church on New Year’s Eve, also complained about DeKalb’s ambulance service. In response, two Care Ambulance employees were fired after an investigation found they responded inappropriately.

Rader said there are no plans to add more ambulances. All DeKalb firefighters are trained as paramedics, which allows the county to send a fire truck to some medical emergencies, supplementing the staff, Rader said.

Jones said that may be OK in some situations, but not when a caller needs an ambulance.

“I’ve lived a long time and learned things happen,” she said. “But to hear about this boy now, well, they need to do something about it.”

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