San Diego

San Diego's 911 Ambulance Response Times Show Big Improvement

Increase in fees paid by ambulance patients underwrites bigger staff, and faster response

Emergency medical response times have markedly improved in the city of San Diego following years of troubling delays in ambulance service.

American Medical Response (AMR), which provides ambulance service for the city, now meets the expected emergency response time on 93 percent of calls, according to a city report. For urgent calls, AMR met the city's goal on 95 percent of calls. For non-emergency calls, the response time goal was met or exceeded on 97 percent of calls. Those statistics cover the time period from July 1 to Sept. 30. 

"The urgency is no longer there for the push (to improve)," Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell recently told a city council committee. "That sense of urgency out on the streets is not there anymore."

Stowell said better response times are the result of increased hiring and better planning, with an emphasis on determining what calls are true emergencies, as opposed to urgent and non-emergency requests that don't require an immediate response.

ARM's customers are paying for this improved service. According to the Fire-Rescue Department, AMR recently increased its fees by 24 percent.

Early last year, ambulance response times were so slow that the city's Chief Operating Officer sent AMR a list of demands it must meet to keep its city contract.

The city also formed a task force to review its Emergency Medical Services system.

Those experts analyzed more than 340,000 emergency calls, paying special attention to response times and staffing levels.

Earlier this year, NBC 7 Investigates confirmed paramedic and EMT staffing levels were low and daily positions were not being filled, according to staff rosters obtained by the Investigates team.

AMR's contract with the city ends in 2020, but when the system was in crisis last year, AMR agreed to a possible early termination.

Stowell now told the city council committee there's no rush to find a new provider given the improvements in response times.

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