LEE COUNTY - Lee County officials moved swiftly Monday to try and shore up additional staff and equipment as Blessing Keokuk Hospital closes in on a Friday closure date.
The hospital's closure also will end the 24/7 emergency room service and all dispatched emergency transports now will likely be run north to Fort Madison, Burlington or possibly to Quincy by Lee County EMS staff.
At Monday's regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Chairman Matt Pflug said the county will act, but he was hoping for some support from the hospital as they close up operations.
"Obviously this is somthing we have to do and we're gonna do it one way or another," he said.
The hospital is officially closing at 7 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 30.
Dennis Cosby, Lee County EMS director said the hospital is already starting to divert patients and wind down services.
Cosby said the county ambulance service will have to supplement Keokuk service for calls immediately and due to lack of notice they haven't had time to add any additional staff.
Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve hiring nine additional EMT staff and purchase a rapid response vehicle.
Supervisor Garry Seyb said that rapid response vehicle will be used by paramedics for advance life support calls or "A" calls.
Seyb said the plan is for the paramedics to move in the rapid response vehicle and respond to calls and if the call is a "B" call or Basic support call, that doesn't require a paramedic, then the EMTs handle the call and the paramedic is back in service.
If an "A" call comes in the paramedic can move to that call and if a transport is required the paramedic can get on the ambulance for the life saving support and an EMT can drive the command vehicle back to the base.
This would keep paramedics available for higher level emergencies, and not just riding on rigs.
With the added staff and a second ambulance, the county will need new housing for the staff in the city. Seyb, Pflug, and EMS staff did tour several facilities that are for sale in Keokuk that could be options for the near future.
Pflug asked Cosby what the county was looking at in reality.
"Since they only gave us 30 days notice, we're going to have to supplement with the Donnellson unit," he said. "We'll have to move some trucks around and do the best we can for the first couple weeks until we get that second truck staffed."
He said there will also be some overtime until they get extra staff in place, if they can find other staff.
Pflug said people in Keokuk are "scared to death".
Lee County grant writer and ARPA administrator Chuck Vandenberg said one Blessing official responded that he didn't support subsidizing the Lee County service.
However, Blessing Health CEO Maureen Kahn had said in a recent article that the former Keokuk Hospital Foundation money could go toward EMS services. However, that money has been diverted to the Keokuk Community Foundation. The foundation had several hundred thousand dollars.
Vandenberg said he reached out to the USDA, and Great River Health for any potential assistance with the funding shortfall that is anticipated with the increased emergency transports in the county out of Keokuk.
So now the county is looking at setting up a system based on transport efficiencies.
"This is something we have to do. Garry made the comment that we have to have the best transport in the state of Iowa. And whatever it takes to do that, we're gonna do it," Pflug said.
He said taking patients to urgent care for emergencies isn't a viable option.
Cosby said the more minor incidents like needing sutures could work, but not for stabilization.
"If you come to urgent care and they can't take care of your condition they tell you to call 9-1-1 or tell you to go the emergency room. They won't take you," Cosby said.
Pflug said he's not sure two hospitals are warranted in the county, but if the county can keep Fort Madison healthy financially, that's a smart way to look at it.
Seyb said very few counties in Iowa, especially rural counties don't have two hospitals. He said that's why a solid transport service is a necessity.
"We need to build the system to be able to have the most effective transport from wherever that call comes from to get to a hospital."
Cosby said that's a model that is being developed across the country including in metro areas.
Supervisor Chuck Holmes said the county needs to look at this as a long-term situation.
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