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Slim crowd for town hall regarding local healthcare

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By Molly Haines

More than 100 people filled the auditorium at Owen County High School July 17, to hear from a panel of local healthcare providers on what’s next following the closure of St. Elizabeth Owen’s emergency department Monday.
Emceed by Owen County Judge-Executive Casey Ellis, audience members were given the opportunity to submit questions in writing, which were then handed off to Ellis and answered by the appropriate panelist.
The meeting opened with introductions from the 12 panelists from healthcare providers such as HealthPoint Family Care, Frankfort Regional Medical Center and Carroll County Memorial Hospital to representatives from Three Rivers Health District and Triad.
Audience members wasted no time submitting questions, the first of which questioned the “severe decline in Owen County EMS.”
Although Owen County EMS Administrator Dan Brenyo sat on the panel, Ellis took the opportunity to address the question, expounding on the number of transport requests the service receives and how the service must handle those requests.
“One thing that should have been noted as we haven’t had a hospital over the last 18 months is the number of transport requests has gone up a little bit,” Ellis said. “Owen County EMS has caught a lot of flack for not being able to take some of those transports, but what should be noted is that Owen County EMS is an emergency medical service, not a transport service. We are statutorily, by law, given a license and we are to provide emergency service, and it is against the law to deplete our resources to do non-emergency transfers.”
From an emergency standpoint, Ellis said options for other transport services are not currently being sought out.
As for the supposed decline of the service, Ellis said he believes “quite the opposite” has taken place since he took office in 2015, noting that the service is about 20 percent more staffed at present, with three of four ambulances he inherited having been replaced.
“We’ve replaced all four of our heart monitors and defibrillators that were outdated with the most state of the art equipment, and we’re in the process of adding some ventilators to the ambulances to accommodate some of the longer transport times that we’re going to be facing now.”
The county was recently designated a “heart safe community,” which will allow Ellis’ office to apply for grant funding to potentially expand placing defibrillators in central locations across the community, according to Ellis, who said defibrillators have already been placed in some government buildings.
One audience question asked whether or not the unfinished area of HealthPoint Family Care, located onProgess Way, would be used for emergency care.
St. Elizabeth Vice President of Operations John Mitchell was on hand to answer the question.
“At this time we are only developing that space as an imaging center with blood drawing capacity,” Mitchell explained. “However, there will be a section of the building that will remain unfinished, and that will be used for future potential expansion or be leased to another healthcare provider if that need is determined in the future.”
When calling 911, Ellis said patients would be transported to the closest appropriate facility, but that Owen County has not entered into any sort of agreement with Frankfort Regional Medical Center (FRMC).
“The reason FRMC has been talked about so much is that they are a level three trauma center,” Ellis explained. “They’re on (Highway 127), they’re within a 25 minute drive of just about anywhere from just north of Owenton to anywhere south of Owenton, so they fit the parameters for chest pains, heart attacks and things of that nature.”
Highway 127 is rarely blocked, according to Ellis, who said when local EMS crews travel Interstate 71 or 75, they never know what to expect.
“With our limited resources and large geographical area, the last thing we want to do is have an ambulance stuck on the interstate with a patient or without one,” Ellis said. “We need to make those turnarounds as quick as possible to be back in the community making those calls. That’s gonna be very important moving forward.”
Owen County Medical Director Dr. Walt Lubbers addressed the use of air ambulances, saying the decision to fly a patient is made on a “case by case basis.”
“It’s a fine line between trying to not utilize the resources if you don’t need them, but trying to get the right resources to the right person,” Lubbers said. “Our EMS crews are actually really good at this … It’s based on stability of the patient, where the helicopter is, where we are and where the patient needs to go. It’s a complex decision and one that we go back and look at pretty extensively.”
Lubbers also addressed patients who are in cardiac arrest, explaining the process the EMS crew on hand would go through to ensure proper patient care.
“Cardiac arrest is another complex thing,” he said. “If your heart stops, if you go into some weird rhythm that no longer provides blood flow to your body, the best thing that we can do for you is to stay where we are and do good care. As soon as we try to move somebody and incorporate that into the rest of everything we have to do, then the quality of that care goes down because you have to focus on driving, carrying the patient out of the house or whatever. When that happens, we don’t do as good a job, and we don’t have as good a chance if we’re trying to move at the same time we’re trying to resuscitate somebody.”
According to protocol, crews will stay in place and attempt to resuscitate the patient for at least 20 minutes. At that point, crews assess what the next step would be, Lubbers said.
Overall, Ellis said he was disappointed in the light turnout.
“Given the serious nature of the meeting and the lack of information that has been available to the community, I expected a larger crowd,” he said.