About 75 percent of former Bartow EMS personnel join privatized service

MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service transition takes effect Oct. 1

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When MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service officially takes over emergency medical services in Bartow County next month, many of the faces will be familiar.

"All Bartow [EMS] employees were offered a job, and about 75 percent of those that applied are coming over," said MetroAtlanta Vice President of Administration Devan Seabaugh at Thursday morning's Eggs and Issues event in Adairsville. "There are a number of part-time folks that work for Bartow that I was told really haven't worked much anymore, and they didn't apply."

Seabaugh announced at the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce meeting that Oct. 1 will be the date MetroAtlanta officially replaces Bartow EMS as the county's 911 ambulance service provider.

The privatization announcement — which Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor described as "the most gut-wrenching" decision of his political career — was met with sharp criticism from many in the local community when it was first publicized in early July.

Still, Taylor said it was a decision the county had to make. According to the county's numbers, Bartow EMS operated at a loss of more than $2 million in the 2017 fiscal year, and over the last 10 years has lost about $13.5 million, considering the excess of expenses over billing revenue. 

Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap said MetroAtlanta was the best choice for a privatization partner. 

"I do not think we could've picked a better company," he said. "The citizens, the only thing they might be able to tell there's a difference is the color of the truck that pulled up and what uniform the ambulance crew is wearing."

Over the last 18 years, Marietta-based MetroAtlanta has grown from a business with 10 employees and two ambulances in 2001 to a company with a 50,000-square-foot headquarters (with hub stations in five counties), a fleet of about 130 vehicles and more than 600 employees. 

Their service area extends from Paulding to Gwinnett, west-to-east, and from Bartow down to Henry, encompassing more than two dozen hospitals across eight health systems.

The company has been working with Cartersville Medical Center since 2008.

"Each hospital that we service has different needs," Seabaugh said. "We take a lot of time understanding what those needs are and figuring out how we can provide the best solution to get their patients moved efficiently, and most importantly, at the cheapest cost for both the hospital and the patient."

Seabaugh said MetroAtlanta will operate out of the current EMS stations in Adairsville, Cartersville, Cassville, Emerson and Euharlee.

"Those will be six 24-hour trucks," he said. "In addition to that, we'll have three 12-hour day cars that will position where we need them throughout the day based on call demand."

Bartow County EMS Director Brandon Duncan will serve as the operations manager for MetroAtlanta's Bartow division.  Seabaugh said the local organizational structure will consist of three shift captains, plus a number of "sergeant, field-trained officers to assist as well."

MetroAtlanta recently purchased 10 new vehicles — all of which, Seabaugh said, will be rolling through Bartow County. Each of those vehicles, he said, are equipped with "automatic vehicle locators," which allow dispatchers to electronically track ambulances on a virtual map in real-time.

"We look at historical call demand by time of day and day of the week," he said. "With that information, we can predict within a few miles where our next calls are going to be ... for example, we know that the busiest day in Bartow is on Friday from 3 o'clock to 11 p.m. So we know we have to have all of our ambulances up and maybe some additional ambulances up on Friday between those hours."

He explained how MetroAtlanta will handle emergency phone calls once the transition is complete.

"When you pick up the phone and call 911, your call is going to go into Bartow County 911," he said. "What we've set up is a relay, pretty much an automatic relay. As soon as the location of the call pops up on Bartow 911's computer-aided dispatch center, we're going to see that in our computer-aided dispatch center and we'll respond a unit."

That, he said, allows their dispatchers to focus on pinpointing and directing "the closest, most appropriate unit" to calls as soon as possible.

"That whole process will take less than a minute," he said.  "You're going from one dispatch center to two dispatch centers with multiple people ... I think we're going to significantly reduce the response times by doing that alone."