City of Memphis falling short on goals for emergency response time as 911 call volume increases

Investigations

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The City of Memphis is falling short of its goals when it comes to responding to emergencies.

The City of Memphis set a number of goals when it comes to public safety. The city wants the response time to be under nine minutes for 80 percent of emergency calls. Right now, according to the city’s website, it’s not meeting that goal and hasn’t since last June.

Another goal the city wants to meet is a national standard. Ninety-five percent of calls should be answered within 20 seconds. Again, the city website reports its falling short and “needs improvement”.

We asked the mayor’s office for more information to see if more resources are needed, but a spokesperson told us the 911 data is incorrect, even though the data is listed right there on its website.

We asked the mayor’s office again for an interview to explain but were told the fire department would answer our questions. MFD never got back to us.

Dr. Daniel Poor is in an emergency medical specialist at Baptist and told us they’ve seen an increase in ER visits, and it’s not because of COVID.

“Over the last year, it’s been challenging for a lot of folks,” Poor said. “A lot of people have been afraid to go to the emergency department. Afraid they would be exposed to this novel virus that’s claiming the lives of people they know.”

Because of that, Poor thinks patients put off getting the care they need, making conditions worse. Not to mention more people are resuming normal life, meaning ER doctors are seeing typical ailments and injuries they saw before COVID.

To top it off, the city has seen an increase in violent crime, leaving staff swamped after just dealing with a pandemic.

“When violence goes up, ER visits will inevitably go up. When violence goes up, also EMS go up. People call ambulances for violence for motor vehicles accidents, for gunshots, stabbings, assault,” Poor said.

The hot sun was beaming down as George Newton laid on the ground, waiting for an ambulance.

“Two managers were on their knees. I actually put my head on her leg to rest it because it had taken so long,” Newton said.

Newton says a mentally unstable man attacked him in a bank parking lot on Union on May 7. The police report says he was hit with a “closed fist”, “causing him to stumble” and slam his head “on the pavement”.

“I, like I said, I was just in shock,” Newton said. “It was terrible. I was laying there.”

According to documents we uncovered, a bank manager called 911 at 11:10 that morning. A unit was assigned three minutes later but didn’t arrive until 11:49, 39 minutes after the initial 911 call.

MFD told us it came in as “a medical call” and “conditions of this incident dictated a delayed response”, adding, “Due to HIPPA Privacy guidelines we are limited on the information which can be released.”

MFD did tell us between March and May of this year it’s experienced higher call volumes compared to the same time frame over last four years. In April alone, it says it had a 25.7% increase in call volume compared to April 2020.

No one with the fire department agreed to an interview, only stating, “We are watching this trend closely.”

Newton says thankfully he made it to the hospital that day, and his injuries healed. Mentally though, he’s still recovering.

“I’m 70 years old,” Newton said. “In retirement, I thought it would be a time of peace for me, but this has not been it.”

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