A man fell and broke his hip. It took two hours for an ambulance to arrive.
In critical situations, our investigation uncovered the average Atlanta resident is waiting nearly 30 minutes for EMS to arrive.
‘There may be a significant wait’
When a city of Atlanta resident calls 911, they’re asked if they need police, fire or EMS. If a caller needs EMS, the 911 dispatcher will transfer that call to Grady EMS, which provides 911 services to the city of Atlanta and 16 other counties across Georgia.
Moments after a bad fall, Randy Hubbell knew his partner was in trouble, so he grabbed his phone and dialed 911.
“I need to get an ambulance over to our residence,” Hubbell told 911. “My partner has fallen down and he has hurt his hip.”
Hubbell made that call at 9:30 p.m. this past February. Forty minutes later, no ambulance had arrived at his Atlanta home, so he called again.
“We have the call, sir,” the Grady EMS dispatcher said. “And I do want to apologize. We are experiencing a delay. We have a very high call volume in your area. Has anything changed with his breathing or level of consciousness?”
“No, but he’s not mobile,” Hubbell answered. “Is there any new pain or bleeding?” the Grady EMS dispatcher asked. “No,” Hubbell replied.
“Okay. Given the high volume of calls we are experiencing, we are prioritizing your call based on his symptoms and there may be a significant wait,” the Grady dispatcher said. “One of our providers will be sent to evaluate you at your home within the next few hours based on our call volume.”
The fall broke Hubbell’s partner’s hip. While in severe pain, they waited. It took Grady EMS two hours to arrive.
“To be put in a queue because he wasn’t bleeding and he wasn’t having a cardiac experience, yet he was not mobile, he could not go to the bathroom and was experiencing a heavy degree of pain, it’s just very disappointing and sad,” Hubbell said.
Grady EMS categorizes 911 calls as Echo, Delta or Other/ Non-emergent. Echo means the caller indicates there is ineffective breathing at any point during the call. Delta indicates a life-threatening emergency medical call.
For the first five months of 2022, Grady EMS said its average monthly response time for critical calls (Echo and Delta) was between 10 and 13 minutes. For less urgent calls (Non-emergent), Grady EMS said its average monthly response time was about 17 minutes.
But for someone waiting on an ambulance, CBS46 Investigates uncovered it’s actually much longer because Grady’s clock does not start when you make the call, and the dispatcher answers. It only starts when the ambulance is assigned, or sent out.
CBS46 Investigates combed through dozens of state health records and uncovered overall response times were dramatically higher than Grady EMS suggested.
In fact, Grady’s average monthly response time for critical and emergent calls, according to state records, was between 22 and 29 minutes for the first five months of 2022. For less urgent calls (Lower Acuity and Non-Acute Requests), the average monthly response time was between 46 and 89 minutes.
This is not a new trend. According to the same state records, Grady’s response times for life-threatening calls more than doubled over the last 15 months and quadrupled for less urgent calls.