Rural Kentucky prepares for changes ahead of hospital closure
Last week, the Tri-State area learned of the upcoming closure of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital this September.
The hospital employs more than 1,000 people who will have to find new jobs.
Residents have expressed concern about getting emergency care to those who live in rural Greenup County.
Greenup E911 covers 354 square miles. Once the Bellefonte ER closes its doors, some patients will have to be taken further to Ashland to King's Daughters Medical Center, and others to Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth.
"You may see a firetruck before you get an ambulance in some of these calls once the ER closes at Bellefonte," said Greenup County Public Safety Director Buford Hurley II.
He says the ambulances may be out of service longer, depending on the commute or how busy the other emergency rooms are. Thankfully area fire departments are already begin to step up and begin life-saving measures until EMS can arrive.
"If you have a time-sensitive emergency and you're in a rural area like a stroke, for example, or even a heart attack, those types of things," Hurley said. "We'll look at the possibility of flying you to get you to a trauma center."
They've been working with local fire departments to make sure they're prepared to provide emergency medical services until an ambulance can arrive and provide transport.
Charley Osborne lives in Greenup County and says he's devastated by the news.
"It's gonna make it hard on country people like I am," Osborne said.
He says he'll have to find a way to King's Daughters when in an emergency.
"You gotta get there as quick as you can," Osborne said. "Fifteen minutes might make a lot of difference."
He says he's worried about longer wait times at other hospitals with the influx of patients.
"There'll definitely be more wait time," Osborne said. "There's usually quite a bit of wait time already, it's gonna get worse. Be flooded with people."
WSAZ spoke with Dr. Richard Ford, chief medical officer and vice president of King's Daughters Medical Center.
He says there's a shortage of available emergency transport vehicles across the area.
"If you're in a vehicle for half an hour instead of 15 minutes, that's twice as long," Ford said. "Really reduces the access to the ambulances."
He says they'll be looking to help those affected counties increase their fleet.
Ford says King's Daughters plans to open an Urgent Care in Russell, Kentucky, to help with those types of emergencies. They currently have a walk-in clinic in Russell.
"We are expanding our services in the emergency room as we speak," Ford said. "Increasing the number of providers who can see patients and nursing staff."
He says they have the capability to expand their facility but have not had enough staff to do so previously.
Ford also says King's Daughters uses the same electronic records system as OLBH, so those looking to transfer medical records will be able to do so easily.
"Instead of being pressured to go find someplace immediately, they'll have the ability to know that they're future is secured."
He says King's Daughters has offered employment to many OLBH staff members already and will allow them to continue working at Our Lady of Bellefonte until operations cease.
“We in the healthcare system have never been able to help the other industry that we’ve lost,” said Ford. “When AK closed or when the folks moved from other industries away from our part of the world we’ve never been able to help very much. This is the first time when we’ve had one of these situations where we as a healthcare system have had the opportunity to really intervene and help. We’re looking forward to that.”