One of the things that stirs Marlboro County Administrator Ron Munnerlyn in the middle of the night is the fact that there is no hospital in the county.
“It’s something that wakes me up at four o’clock in the morning,” he said. “It is something on my mind all the time and I know council feels the same. It is very important.”
The EMS Task Force held their second meeting earlier this week. This committee is the result of seeing increased ambulance response times and situations where Marlboro County Rescue (MCR) cannot respond quickly due to all of the units being out of the county transporting patients to hospitals.
The task force is comprised of three members of county council, three people from Marlboro General Hospital Charity Trust Board, three from MCR and Munnerlyn.
He said when the hospital closed almost three years ago, they could only guess the impact it would have on the county.
“It has taken this long for it really to hit home and for the impact to be felt,” he said
County officials said there are a tremendous number of calls where people are using the emergency room as primary care.
In the past, MCR would pick patients up, take them to Marlboro Park Hospital and have a pretty quick turnaround. Now they are transporting these same patients to Scotland County Hospital in Laurinburg, N.C., McLeod Dillon Hospital or McLeod Health Cheraw.
“The turnaround time is longer because those emergency rooms are under stress from the volume of calls coming out of Marlboro County,” Munnerlyn said.
He added MCR is not able to take a patient, drop them off and leave. They have to wait until a person is processed and the EMS team is released.
“We are seeing the turnaround time is going up on top of the transport time going up,” he said.
For years, the county has had a contract with MCR with funding coming from tax millage on the citizens’ bills to pay for EMS.
MCR provides three 24/7 paramedic-level ambulances and one 10-hour-a-day unit for non-emergency transport type calls.
Munnerlyn said MCR has done an excellent job and has an excellent reputation but with the hospital gone, they are feeling the pain because it costs more to operate the service. The funding received from the county has stayed the same.
“All those things combined is what led up to us forming this task force,” he said. “We need to understand what the needs are and what the demands are on the EMS system.
He added they need to understand what a proper funding level is, develop a budget, a cost structure and determine how it is operated.
County council had EMS response times and ways to remove barriers for entities wanting to come in and operate some sort of healthcare system to receive EMS as part of their strategic initiatives.
In the past, a task force looked at the effects of not having a hospital. A study conducted determined a county this size could not support a hospital.
He said the current task force has a more pragmatic approach to what needs to be done to care for citizens.
“Council feels like if we can’t have a hospital, then we need a super duper ems system more so than a normal situation where a county has a hospital. So the focus of this group is to have a super duper EMS system and then try to do anything we can to create other alternatives,” Munnerlyn said.
There are some alternatives to having a hospital. One is a free-standing emergency room with a few beds.
An EMS unit can’t take an emergency patient to an urgent care under state regulations but they could take one to a free-standing emergency room. We have two hospital systems operating in this county and drawing patients from here.
State law says in order to put a free-standing emergency room here, an entity must already be a hospital in South Carolina.
Another council initiative is to lobby to have the law changed since this is a border county.
Munnerlyn said one possible solution is to convince a hospital system to come here and invest so ambulances could stay in the county.
Another alternative is to change regulations and allow an urgent care to receive EMS calls, not trauma calls but general sickness calls.
“The task force’s primary goal is to figure out how to make EMS the most efficient fastest response possible and what it would take to get it there,” he said.