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FCH planning to keep providing ambulance service

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By Dave Bell

In a meeting continued from its regular meeting two weeks ago, the Fayette County Hospital Board on Monday voted to sell one of its ambulances and put out for bid a renovation project in the Special Care Unit.

The ambulance, a large Freightliner unit, is one of two similar vehicles that were purchased about three years ago. This unit, however, was never put into service because of electrical issues and other problems that surfaced shortly after it arrived in Vandalia from its previous location in Ohio.

Both units were purchased by a former manager of the FCH emergency department with funds provided by Friends & Families of Fayette County Hospital.

In bringing up the ambulance issue, board member Jim Lay said, “We need to decide if we want to advertise it for sale or spend a lot of money to fix it.”

Kris Blankenship, one of several members of the hospital’s Emergency Medical Technicians attending Monday’s meeting, said the vehicle “has issues.”

“The electrical system wasn’t doing what it should be doing, it needed a radio system, the oxygen hookup wasn’t there and there was a lot of rust in the back of the truck,” he said. “It looks real good, but it has issues.”

Pat Strullmyer, a member of Friends & Families who was serving as treasurer at the time the ambulances were purchased, said the unit had only 32,000 miles on it at the time of purchase and cost only $27,000.

“We were doing what we were asked to do,” she said, noting that the hospital creates a list of items it needs, and Friends & Families purchases those items it can afford. “The new ambulance was to replace one that had 300,000 miles on it.”

Greg Starnes, hospital CEO, said the hospital has some culpability, too.

“In all fairness, we didn’t do the homework on it,” he said. “On the second truck, the research wasn’t done. We put some TLC into the other one and it has worked well.”

After several minutes of discussing the problems with the second Freightliner ambulance, Lay suggested that the district either give the ambulance back to Friends & Families or sell it and give the proceeds to the support group for use on future projects at the hospital.

He and several other board members expressed their appreciation for the work done by the Friends & Families organization.

Rick Gottman, FCH Director of Facility and Support Services, suggested that the board consider taking the unit to a municipal vehicle auction that is held each month in Mt. Vernon.

Though most of the discussion of ambulances had to do with the problem Freightliner, the board also had a general discussion about the hospital’s ambulance service. Blankenship told the board that the hospital has four working ambulances in its fleet.

That discussion was prompted by the announcement at the board’s February meeting by Terry White of Altamont Ambulance Service that he was planning to set up an ambulance service in Vandalia.

Though Starnes said that he hasn’t talked with White for about three weeks, he has heard that White is in the process of securing a building in Vandalia.

“I told him that if he’s still planning to go ahead with his plans that we need to talk about collaborating with him,” Starnes said.

“When you talk with Terry White again,” Lay said to Starnes, “tell him that we plan to stay in the ambulance business.”

After Monday’s meeting, Starnes told The Leader-Union that while White’s plans are still preliminary, he’d like to see the hospital cooperate with White to maximize the service to the public.

“If he’s going to be here, we need to look for ways to collaborate,” Starnes said. “If there is a way we can improve the service to the community by working together, then we’d like to find those ways.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board voted to put out to bid a project to renovate the hospital’s Special Care Unit. The board had been working with Korte-Luitjohan Construction Company of Highland on a window-replacement project at the hospital, and had considered making the SCU renovation a change order on that job rather than a new job.

Lay made the motion to put it out for bids. It passed unanimously.

The board also approved a bid of $975 to remove a dead tree on hospital property.