Healthmark Regional Medical Center: temporary closure of emergency rooms

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DeFUNIAK SPRINGS – Healthmark Regional Medical Center in DeFuniak Springs will close its emergency room for two weeks to a month, creating what Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson calls “a very serious concern” that will “significantly affect times transport and the availability of ambulance services of the department.

Adkinson told the Walton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the sheriff’s office learned last week that Healthmark would soon be closing its emergency room “for a period of time … to carry out renovations and renovations.”

The closure of the hospital emergency room will mean that other area hospitals will receive patients who would normally have been treated at Healthmark Regional Medical Center on US Highway 331 North, just south of DeFuniak Springs.

Lisa Holley, the hospital’s director of operations, told commissioners the facility planned to close its emergency room for a month unless it could get additional help with planned construction work, which could reduce the closure to two weeks.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Holley was invited to meet with county government administration and commission chairman Mike Barker to explore ways the county could help shorten the length of the shutdown. the emergency room.

The temporary closure is of particular concern to the sheriff’s office because “we don’t know how long the emergency room will be closed,” Adkinson told commissioners.

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Walton County Fire Rescue (WCFR), which provides fire and emergency services north of Choctawhatchee Bay and has been part of the sheriff’s office since 2017, added a seventh ambulance to its service area on Sunday in anticipation of more calls and longer transport times to other medical facilities.

Previous plans called for the additional ambulance to go into service in April as part of WCFR’s regular planning for future needs.

The recently added ambulance has advanced survivability and is staffed with an emergency medical technician and a paramedic, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office also plans to put an eighth ambulance on the road that “will operate as staff permit,” Adkinson told county commissioners.

“We just don’t have the crew to run an eighth ambulance for 24 hours (a day),” he said.

But Adkinson added that surrounding jurisdictions have donated ambulances for county use.

“We certainly aren’t too proud to avail ourselves of the help,” the sheriff said.

In further comments, Adkinson said: “Walton County Fire Rescue transports approximately 100 people a month to Healthmark. Each of these patients will now have to go to either Sacred Heart (Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast Hospital in Miramar Beach) or off County.”

This circumstance could add two hours or more to travel times for people who suffer from medical emergencies in northern Walton County, Adkinson added.

In addition to the pressures anticipated by WCFR, the Healthmark Regional Medical Center sees about 800 “walk-in” ER patients each month, he said.

“These walk-ins could now request ambulance rides,” Adkinson said. “If a quarter of these people request ambulance transport now, the pressure on the system is going to be significant. … If 300 people request transport, we are in a rather difficult situation.”

A related concern is people presenting to Healthmark unaware that the emergency room is closed, he added.

The sheriff said he was particularly concerned about the effect of the Healthmark emergency room closure on Sacred Heart. He noted that South County Hospital will simultaneously handle emergencies that come with the spring break crowds.

The sheriff’s office has already contacted hospitals outside of Walton County to let them know of the impending emergency room closure at Healthmark Regional Medical Center so they can be prepared for more patients.

“We want to assure residents the excellent quality of care they receive through Walton County Fire Rescue Emergency Medical Services will continue as we adapt to these changes,” Adkinson said in an office press release. of the sheriff. “…(O)our staff are committed to doing everything in their power to ensure that residents and visitors are informed of this change and that members of our community receive the emergency care that they need.”

“From our perspective, we’re going to do whatever it takes to staff ambulances,” Adkinson told county commissioners on Tuesday. “If it means recruiting people to drive ambulances, we will do what we have to do.

“But nothing about it is going to alleviate the travel time. There’s just nothing I can do about it. And that concerns me a lot,” he said.

Adkinson added that a DeFuniak Springs resident could face the “very serious potential of having to wait an extended period of time to get to a hospital emergency room.”

He praised the training of WCFR staff and their equipment, but added that “at the end of the day, minutes save lives”.

“We’re at an impasse,” Adkinson said. “We’re going to get the (ambulance) crews up as fast as we can. We’ll pay overtime, we’ll bring people in. But if I have to get you from Paxton to Fort Walton (HCA Fort Walton -Destin Hospital in Fort Walton Beach , more than 80 km), it’s a real problem.”

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