Motorists know when they see a speeding ambulance in the rearview mirror to get out of the way.
Seconds count in a medical emergency. The sooner the ambulance reaches the scene or gets the person in the back of the ambulance to the hospital, the better the patient’s chances of survival or of avoiding serious injury.
Yet in Chatham County, EMS is currently in a constant state of emergency. Ambulance response times have steadily increased since 2020, reaching an average of 17 minutes, 30 seconds as of December 2022. Even those in dire need ― life-threatening emergencies ― are waiting 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
This trend concerns local and state government officials. Meanwhile, the local EMS provider, a privately held nonprofit known as Chatham Emergency Services, is facing a bevy of challenges, including:
∙ A spike in service calls, including a growing number that officials label 911 “misuse.”
∙ An antiquated 911 and dispatch process.
∙ A manpower and resources shortage.
∙ Overwhelmed hospital emergency rooms that idle ambulances for extended periods of time.
Chatham Emergency Services’ issues, many of which are shared by EMS providers across the state, have led to calls for reforms. In Georgia, state law limits what municipalities can do about EMS providers city leaders consider underperforming. Lawmakers have introduced bills loosening those restrictions.
Chatham Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns said efforts to tweak the law are misplaced.
“We are facing difficult circumstances,” he said. “Blowing us up is not a solution.”
Savannah Morning News reporters examined Chatham County’s EMS emergency, the reasons behind the shortcomings and what is being done to address the issues.