Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
This is what happens when the money dries up.
The news nonprofit Voice of San Diego has an excellent but infuriating investigation this week of nearly two years' worth of data on how long it takes first responders in the city to actually respond to the most serious medical emergencies. The depressing picture described in the story recalls another related number recently in the news: that, on the eve of bankruptcy, police in Detroit have been taking on average 58 minutes to respond to 911 calls.
San Diego is hardly on the verge of collapse. But that's what makes this analysis all the more alarming: This is a portrait of a city, like so many others, that's struggling in an almost mundane way to provide basic services amid budget cuts, with the worst consequences falling on the communities with little political muscle to claim more resources. From the story:
By their own standard, first responders have arrived late across the city more than 37,000 times to cardiac arrests, chokings, shootings and other highest-priority incidents during a 21-month period ending in March, a Voice of San Diego analysis of delayed responses found. That’s an average of more than two times an hour, every day. If you add lower-priority incidents to the list, the rate almost doubles.
Nowhere in San Diego has a greater chance for delays than five neighborhoods within 9 ½ square miles south and east of downtown, including some of the poorest and brownest parts of the city. A recent consultant study found that the neighborhood surrounding Home Avenue had the highest risk of a late response, followed by Paradise Hills, College Area, Skyline and Encanto.
People may disagree about the role of local government in making us healthier or regulating morality, but swiftly responding to medical emergencies – where seconds make a serious difference in the outcome of heart attacks or drive-by shootings – is a pretty fundamental function of cities.
Go read this story in full. It will tick you off. Then, if you live in San Diego, you can look up how long it has taken first-responders to turn up to incidents on your block. We'd love to see a map of medical emergency response times like this in dozens of other cities: