Scott County residents face hour drive to closest hospital

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ONEIDA, Tenn. (WATE) — Scott County patients have been forced to travel about an hour in one direction for an emergency room after emergency services were starting to be diverted over the weekend.

RELATED: Big South Fork Medical Center no longer accepting ambulances, Sen. Blackburn wants answers from Rennova

Scott County EMS crews said they are taking patients to either Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, La Follette Medical Center or Tennova North Medical Center.

All locations are more than 40 miles away.

WATE 6 On Your Side has reached out to Rennova Health, the parent company of Big South Fork Medical, for a statement, but has not heard back.

Dennis Rowe, director of government and industry relations for Priority Ambulance, said rural hospitals across the country have been closing and leaving patients to travel further.

Priority Ambulance doesn’t transport in Scott County, but Rowe knew from experience how difficult it is for the community when a hospital stops taking emergency patients.

He said if a rural county doesn’t have more than one ambulance service, patients could wait longer than the additional drive time.

“Then there’s another call, there’s been a call waiting; so now the individuals are upset in that local community because they’ve had to wait on an ambulance to get back into an area,” Rowe said.

Waiting for an ambulance or an ambulance having to drive an hour could have a tragic outcome in a life or death situation as well.

He said what seems like a diagnosis that would normally not be life-threatening, such as a urinary tract infection, could become life-threatening and turn into sepsis depending on the age of the patient.

“In a public health situation, you’re looking at time-sensitive emergencies,” Rowe said. “That is strokes; the chest pain where damage is occurring to the heart tissue. So you’ve gotta open the blood supply back up in order to prevent death of that tissue; and then the sepsis patients.”

He said the longer transports also cost the patient and the ambulance service more money.

“The distance, as it increases, the costs increase. Therefore, it’s passed on to the insurance company, hopefully. And if the patient doesn’t have insurance, or is under-insured, in that case, the patient will have to be struggling to pay for that,” Rowe said.

He said the longer trips also hurts the ambulance service.

If a patient doesn’t have insurance, then the ambulance company takes on the extra costs.

Longer distances also mean less available EMT’s close by. The hourslong transport takes a toll on EMT’s as well.

“So instead of having maybe a call once every three or four hours, you’ve now got a call almost every hour or every two hours, and that is a very fatiguing call-to-treatment ratio that is very difficult for the person caring for the patient,” Rowe said.

Adding more ambulances to the mix wouldn’t be a simple fix either, according to Rowe.

He said that staffing one more ambulance a year costs about $300,000.

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