Why Detroit’s emergency services are lagging

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Detroit News‘ Charlie LeDuff tried to figure out his city’s abysmal ambulance response times, and had a tough time finding excuses for why they are so far behind the national average, though staffing cuts and budget shortages certainly played a role. He wears his frustration on his sleeve and the article’s brutally incisive as a result. I’ll do my best to summarize, but it’s certainly worth a read.

One problem, according to a 2004 city audit of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system, is that Detroit is the only major American city that does not allow a firefighter or a police officer to aid a victim before the ambulance arrives. Another problem is substandard communication equipment. Since that report was issued, at least two hospitals have closed and the EMS system has been decimated by staffing cuts causing ambulances to drive farther.

The national standard for ambulance response is eight minutes, and some Detroit suburbs have it down around five. Nobody’s sure how long Detroit ambulances take, but it’s clear that it’s well beyond the acceptable threshold. Fire Commissioner James Mack Jr. said the departments doing the best it can to maximize resources amid budget constraints, LeDuff reports.

Mack made a claim to Fox 2 News a few weeks ago that the average response time in Detroit for an ambulance to arrive on a 911 call is 12 minutes — even while admitting that often there are no units available to get to calls.

According to that 2004 audit, the two-year average at that time was about 12 minutes. And that was before the city cut its paramedics and emergency medical technicians by nearly 40 percent.

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