An ambulance ride to the hospital just got costlier in DeKalb County.
The Board of Commissioners voted Aug. 28 to increase the rates, which had been among the lowest in the metro Atlanta region.
The cost of a basic life support transport will increase by $250 to $750. Transports requiring advanced life support will cost $825, up from $550.
Around the region, basic life support transports range from $343 in Douglas County to $1,627 via Grady EMS in Fulton County.
In DeKalb, the cost of oxygen during a medical transport will be $75, up from $45, while EKGs will cost $112.50 instead of the old rate of $75. Mileage costs will be $10.50 per mile versus $7.
The rate increase does not sit well with Viola Davis, of the Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter, who recently had a child transported from school to the emergency room at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta for a medical emergency.
“That visit to the emergency room turned out to be about $680,” Davis told commissioners before they voted to approve the increase. “Then after that, we received our bill to transport our child from the school to the emergency room. That bill was for $600.
“As a critical care nurse, I was sitting there trying to figure out exactly why would the ambulance service costs as much as the emergency room,” Davis said.
Emergency rooms are staffed with doctors, surgeons, x-ray technicians, Davis said.
“You have all of these professionals that are trained in trauma such as myself that works critical care,” she said. “You understand why that increased cost is there because you never know what the emergency may be.
“Show me where the ambulance service is doing as much training as the emergency room [staff],” Davis said.
The county’s current ambulance service provider, the Arizona-based Rural/Metro Corporation, has been operating on an emergency basis since July 2010.
Rural/Metro, which provides emergency and non-emergency ambulance services and private fire protection services in 20 states throughout the United States, was hired after the county canceled its contract with CARE Ambulance, a Montgomery, Ala., company. CARE’s contract was ended after the company responded slowly to several incidents, county officials said at the time.
Rural/Metro requested the rate increases because it has been experiencing a problem in collecting some of the transport fees.
“This is intended to be a stop gap measure…to assist this provider,” Commissioner Lee May said.
Norman Augustin, deputy chief of operations for the DeKalb Fire Rescue Department, said the ambulance fees are typically paid by Medicare or insurance companies.
Commissioner Jeff Rader explained that Rural/Metro is losing approximately $28 per transport for its 32,000 transports per year.
“Obviously, the increase that is being proposed is more than $28,” Rader said. “The key here is to identify the fact that there is a loss…but more importantly, this was an emergency selection that was instituted using our existing cost structure.
“It would have been great if we could have made a selection much sooner, because you typically don’t want to run with emergency selections for two years,” Rader said.
The county is currently in the process of accepting proposals from companies interested in taking over the ambulance service. So far, the county has received three proposals that will be evaluated and narrowed down to one finalist.
The Board of Commissioners will then vote on the proposal. The administration will bring a recommendation to commissioners at the end of October, said Kelvin Walton, the county’s director of the county’s purchasing and contracting department.
Once a new provider is selected, the transition would take at least two months Walton said.