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County prepares for impending ER closure

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By Molly Haines

With St. Elizabeth Owen’s impending emergency room closure only weeks away, the Owen County Judge-Executive’s office continues to revise its plans for the county’s future emergency medical care.
 Primary factors in that care include designating Frankfort Regional Medical Center (FRMC) as Owen County’s base care facility and the expanded use of air ambulances.
 The county initially began putting together a contingency plan for a possible hospital closure in early 2016. The decision to designate FRMC as the county’s base care facility came in recent months and is due in large part to the volume of traffic on Interstate 75.
“(FRMC) can do everything that (hospitals in Northern Kentucky) could do — heart catheterizations, strokes, surveys, trauma surgery,” Owen County EMS Administrator Dan Brenyo explained. “Even with our response time of 35 minutes from the tip of the Owen County line, if you took 35 minutes, they could have their entire team assembled and ready to go. It would almost be like going directly into (the University of Kentucky Medical Center’s) operating room. Going up north it’s not a matter of services not being available, it’s a matter of the time we could get stuck on the interstate and traffic — that becomes a serious issue.”
Since the announcement regarding St. Elizabeth Owen’s emergency room closure, Brenyo said he and Owen County Judge-Executive Casey Ellis have been in close contact with FRMC.

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“(FRMC) needs to know that they could see up to 1,000 more patients a year and they need to understand that those patients are coming directly from the field and not from another facility, so there is a different level of attention that has to be given to that,” Brenyo said.
Chip Peal, FRMC’s Chief Executive Officer, said FRMC currently treats over 40,000 patients per year and employs an appropriate amount of staff for its current patient volume.
“We are equipped to handle an additional 1,000 more patients a year,” Peal said. “If we feel that additional staff is necessary to handle an increase in volumes, we’ll certainly review and make any adjustments as needed.”
If it is determined by FRMC that a patient needs to be transferred to another facility, Brenyo said Franklin County’s neighboring Anderson County EMS service would handle the transfer.
Anderson County has a longstanding agreement with FRMC, sanctioned by Franklin County, to handle all of FRMC’s transfers, according to Brenyo, who said Owen County EMS does not have operating authority in Franklin County.
Although FRMC will serve as the county’s base care facility, patients could also be transported to Carroll County Memorial Hospital and St. Elizabeth Grant County, but are not limited to the three hospitals.
“Frankfort Regional Medical Center understands that patients have a choice in receiving their health care,” Peal said. “We want the residents of Owen County to know that we’re here when they need us, and we’ve already served many residents of Owen County as part of the hospital’s service area.”
Additionally, the county has been divided up into three sections for air medical coverage.
The northwestern portion of the county, encompassing areas like New Liberty and Wheatley will be served by Air Methods’ Bedford, Ky. location, while its Frankfort location will serve the southern end of the county, including Monterey, Gratz and Owenton. Air Evac out of Williamstown will serve areas like Hesler and Corinth.
Each of the air medical ambulance companies may respond outside of their designated areas, according to Brenyo, who said the designations would help first responders and law enforcement expedite calls for service.
“If there’s a car wreck in that area, state police knows to call that service and then they just pass it down until an aircraft becomes available,” Brenyo said.
Once the designations were made, the next step was to identify and solidify landing zones across the county for air ambulances before strengthening mutual aid agreements with surrounding EMS services.
The county has had longstanding mutual aid agreements with Franklin, Carroll and Scott counties. Communication with the three counties is monthly. However, no training with the respective counties has taken place.
“The chances that anybody can really send us anything is at that moment in time,” he said. “That’s the big thing. We just kinda take it as it goes.”
As for EMS response, both Brenyo and Owen County Judge-Executive Casey Ellis are adamant that nothing will change.
“There’s been a lot of rumors and misinformation regarding 911 services,” Ellis said. “When you dial 911 nothing will change. We’ll be making operational changes as needed to maintain the service that’s required and expected.”
Across the state, EMS services are dealing with a shortage of paramedics and Owen County is no different.
“It’s such a big crisis, not having enough paramedics in the state of Kentucky that the Kentucky Board of EMS is considering impaneling the governor to ask for a special committee to be formed to address the issue,”Ellis said. “But depending on the disposition of EMS staff that work at (St. Elizabeth Owen), if those individuals desire to come back to Owen County, then we will be fully staffed with two paramedics on every shift.”
A meeting with first responders from local fire departments is expected to be scheduled soon. The county hopes to employ their assistance when ambulances are tied up with transports.
Ellis, Brenyo and FRMC staff met with EMS staff June 20; another meeting will take place in late July.
Meanwhile, Ellis said a town hall-style meeting regarding the county’s future health care will take place Monday, July 17, inside the Owen County High School auditorium.
Representatives from Three Rivers District Health Department, Triad, HealthPoint Family Care, St. Elizabeth, FRMC, Carroll County Memorial Hospital, Air Methods, Air-Evac, Owen County EMS, UK Health Care and Genesis are expected to attend.
“Each of these folks will have about five minutes at the beginning of the meeting to outline the services they will provide to the community,” Ellis said. “From there we’ll go into a forum-style meeting. The goal is to get the facts out to the community and to dispel any rumors or misinformation that may be floating around. It’s a great opportunity for anyone that has any questions or concerns to be able to get their answers.”
The doors at OCHS will open at 5:30 p.m. with each of the organizations having resource table were you can talk to them directly about what they have to offer the community, with the meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Anyone with questions or concerns may submit their question in advance to the judge’s office by calling (502) 484-3405 or by asking questions and addressing the group during the forum. Ellis said further information regarding the meeting will be forthcoming.