In Detroit, EMS response times must improve

The Detroit News

One of our Detroit News colleagues collapsed in our bureau at Detroit City Hall Thursday with stroke-like symptoms. And while we typically don’t use this space to air personal grievances, the incident raises larger issues affecting all who work and live in the city.

It took 25 minutes for an ambulance to respond to the 911 call. Again, the call was made from City Hall in downtown Detroit. And it still took nearly half an hour for help to arrive.

Mayor Mike Duggan called the slow response time unacceptable. He’s surely right.

“Obviously that’s something of deep concern to everybody who works here,” the mayor said. “We’re going to take a close look at it.”

It’s encouraging that the mayor says reducing response time is a top priority of his administration. And progress is being made. When he took office in January, the average EMS response time was 18 minutes; today it is 12 minutes, 40 seconds. The goal is to meet the national standard of 8 minutes by Jan. 1.

To get there, the city is increasing the number of units on the road. Detroit had 12-13 units in service on average in January; today it is 16-18, and that should improve to 25 by the first of the year. In addition, Duggan says, new classes of emergency medical technicians are being trained, and under the new labor agreement, all firefighters will be cross-trained as EMTs over the next two years.

“At that point, we’ll be running the fire department we should have here,” Duggan says.

It is essential that progress continue on reducing response times. Minutes can mean the difference between life and death in a medical emergency. Particularly with a stroke, getting aid quickly to the victim is critical, and can determine how fully the sufferer is able to recover.

In this case, our colleague’s prognosis was good as of late Thursday.

This is not only a matter of public safety, but also of competitiveness. In the suburbs, an ambulance typically arrives in five minutes or less. Such rapid response gives the victim a fighting chance of survival.

That’s something businesses must weigh when deciding where to locate, just as residents do.

We are reassured by the mayor’s obvious commitment to reducing response times to the national standard, and with the tangible investment in equipment and training to get there.

Detroiters and the people who work and play in Detroit deserve the same chance at survival in a medical emergency as do their suburban counterparts.

Detroiters have the right to expect response times at or below the national standard not just on average, but every time 911 is called.