Archived Story

Hospital’s closing to affect EMS costs

Published 5:36pm Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital will affect Beaufort County’s emergency medical services, including increasing the cost for providing that service, according to one county official.

During the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency-services director, discussed the effects that closing the Belhaven hospital likely would have on EMS efforts in the county. Last month, Vidant Health announced it plans to close the Belhaven hospital and replace it with a new, around-the-clock multispecialty clinic. Many Belhaven-area residents want that clinic to have a fully equipped emergency room.

“The bottom line is we need an ‘H’ designation in order to haul patients, get paid for it and also to consider a facility that replaces the current Vidant Pungo facility. It’s going to require the ‘H’ designator. Without that, we’re not going to be able to get reimbursed for taking patients there. It doesn’t mean we won’t take patients there if it’s going to extend their life or we have a good chance to save their life,” Pack told the board.

Several factors, including the presence or absence of a doctor at the new clinic, would help determine if a patient is taken to the clinic for stabilization or taken directly to a critical-care hospital, Pack noted. Taking a patient to the clinic first, whether it has the ‘H’ designation or not, always remains an option.

“Regardless of whether we’re paid or not, if there’s a capability there to save somebody’s life, we’re going to stop there first and then do whatever we need to do,” Pack said. “Bottom line: some people seem to think when I’m talking I’m only worried about money. Money is money, but lives are more important than any dollar amount we put on it.”

Pack told the board that gap between when the hospital closes and the clinic opens, which could be about 18 months, will result in longer transport times for some Belhaven-area patients because they will have to be brought to Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington for treatment. Those longer times for transport mean the turn-around times for EMS crews will be longer, possibly up to three hours in some cases, Pack said.

To provide the EMS coverage needed in the Belhaven area once the hospital there closes, the county is negotiating a new contract for such service with White Oak Medical Transport, which currently provides EMS services in that area. That new contract likely would cost the county about another $300,000, Pack said. For that money, White Oak would assign a second EMS unit to cover the Belhaven area.

“I suppose we should pray for that ‘H’ designation. Then, of course, we could taken them to Pungo Vidant and not have to worry about moving them over to Vidant Beaufort, where Pungo Vidant would be in the fallback position if they absolutely have to go somewhere quick,” Commissioner Stan Deatherage said. “Then you’ve got to figure are they going to be able to help them at Pungo Vidant because they’re going to have so many limitations.”

For additional coverage of how the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital could affect EMS coverage in the county, see future editions of the Washington Daily News.


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