FCH still studying future of ambulance service

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By Dave Bell

Fayette County Hospital is not ready to abandon its ambulance service just yet.

At the monthly meeting of the hospital district board on Monday, hospital CEO Greg Starnes said that he’s studied the situation since last month’s board meeting and found that there are “more questions than answers so far.”

He was referring to a proposal presented at the February meeting from Terry White of the Altamont Ambulance Service, who told the board that he planned to begin offering ambulance service in Fayette County by mid year.

White told the board that he could offer better equipment and service than the current ambulance operation at the hospital. He also told the board that once he has his service in place, county 911 dispatchers would be obligated to alternate calls between the hospital ambulances and his ambulances.

But Starnes wants to know more.

“Until we get more answers, I can’t recommend that we get out of the ambulance business,” Starnes said. “It requires more study.”

He said that he’s talked with the FCH emergency medical services personnel, and has gotten more information about how their procedures and practices compare with the proposal made by White.

“They talked about the care and assistance they provide, the people and equipment we have on our rigs, and the protocols that are in place.

“There are differences in medication protocols,” he said. “And some of those are very important. What it comes down to is that unless this company can provide superior service and care, I would not recommend going that way.”

Plus, he noted that the building near the intersection of Eighth and Randolph streets that Altamont Ambulance Service was intending to use is now occupied.

Starnes said that he will be contacting the ambulance service that oversees the performance of local ambulance services in this region of the state to see what items must be considered in assessing the performance and future of the hospital’s service.

About eight members of the EMS crew at the hospital were on hand for the board meeting. They answered questions from the board and voiced their concerns about dropping the hospital’s service.

Considerable discussion centered around the age and condition of the hospital’s fleet of ambulances. Board member Norris Price said he’d like to see a report on the FCH ambulances and the department’s financial picture.

Tina Evans, manager of ER Services and EMS at the hospital, described the ambulances this way: “All are old and have a lot of miles on them. One is almost 20 years old, and the average mileage is 150,000-200,000.”

The board also objected to the ambulances being taken to Troy for service and repair work. Several members said they’d prefer them to be worked on in Effingham. Starnes said that the hospital staff would explore that option.

In the end, the issue was tabled until next month.

In other business:

• The board heard reports from two engineering companies that indicated two projects being undertaken at the hospital area nearly complete.

The first is a window replacement project on the second and third floors of the facility. More first-floor window work may be done in the future in conjunction with proposed renovation work in the hospital’s Special Care Unit.

The second project nearing completion involves work being done to the hospital’s chiller unit. Cleanup, testing and training is all that remains to be done, the board was told.

• Plans for the renovation project in the Special Care Unit have been submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health for approval. The preliminary estimate of the cost of that work is $160,000, but the board allowed the hospital’s planning and services committee to approve the project if the cost comes in below $180,000.

• The board heard a report from Dr. Brent Schwarm that the hospital is “bumping up against the maximum number of patients allowed,” due to the high number of admissions to the hospital recently. He also noted that some physicians were having trouble getting dictation notes typed up and returned to them in a timely manner. Starnes responded, saying that a backlog had existed, but everything is caught up now.

• Starnes told the board that the hospital’s new scanning machine has been received and the process of scanning patient medical records has begun. The hospital will convert to electronic records in the future, he said, but the old records must be scanned in first.

• Starnes also told the board that he continues to have monthly meetings with the staff, thanking them for their sacrifices and keeping them informed as the hospital takes measures to weather the downturn in the economy.

“We have continued to try to grow the business,” he said, “but in this economy we’re going to be pretty flat.”

In his financial report to the board, Starnes said that the hospital exceeded budget in February in gross revenue ($4,360,901 actual to $4,316,372 budgeted) and in net income ($96,770 actual to $10,596 budgeted). Year to date, the net income is $263,433, which is well over the $38,552 that was budgeted.

• Starnes said that Dr. Penny Gozia, a gynecological physician, will begin holding office hours at the hospital on Apr. 16.