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Solutions need to be found for transfer patients

Staff writer

Between a nurse shortage that limits beds St. Luke Hospital can staff and the number of ambulances available to take care of emergencies and transfer patients to other hospitals, the county needs to figure out some options.

Three weeks ago, emergency medical service director Travis Parmley spoke to county commissioners about a complaint made on social media that county ambulances would not transfer a patient to another town.

“We’ve had the same transfer policy since 2019,” Parmley said.

He said he was willing to transfer patients from local hospitals to larger hospitals but wanted to keep adequate staff in the county to handle emergencies here.

Emergency calls are the department’s top priority and transfers come second, he said.

“We try to work with the hospital when it really needs to happen,” he said.

St. Luke Hospital chief executive Jeremy Ensey presented the hospital’s side to commissioners Monday.

“First, this is not about placing blame but about finding a solution to a problem that we are currently in,” Ensey said.

He said the hospital knew its limitations and when a patient needed to be transferred.

Nurses quitting, moving to different work, or retiring early have been a problem nationwide in the last two years, Ensey said.

Noting that the county’s EMS transfer policy was established in 2019, Ensey said, “This isn’t 2019.”

The hospital has had to hold patients because it was unable to transfer them despite the patients needing treatment from specialists not available at St. Luke.

“This further delays definitive treatment for these patients,” Ensey said.

When the county has more than one ambulance available and a patient still is denied transport to a larger hospital, it’s a problem, Ensey said.

Often a patient who needs to be transferred is an emergency patient, Ensey said.

“We can try to stabilize the patient, but patients are in need of emergent and definitive care,” Ensey said.

He recalled a situation in which St. Luke was dealing with a critical patient who came in during the middle of the night but was told the patient would have to wait until after 7 a.m. because EMS had made a previous run to Wichita.

“That was a 911 call,” Ensey said.

A patient who needed transferred to Kansas City — the only place St. Luke could find a bed for him, had to be airlifted at great expense.

“We also had a septic patient who lost their bed at KU because we couldn’t find anyone to get them there,” Ensey said. “More delays for patients in need of further care.”

Ensey said providers at St. Luke should not be questioned about the necessity of a transfer after that decision was made.

Answering Parmley’s earlier statement that the hospital had other options for transferring patients, Ensey said the other option is a ground ambulance service in Wichita that is not available 24 hours a day.

“In addition, it is a minimum of one hour of time for them to get here,” he said.

Parmley responded: “A lot of what Jeremy said is absolutely true. There are a lot of moving parts.”

Parmley said there also was a shortage of emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

He said he didn’t have definitive answers how to resolve the situation.

“If there are two critical transfers, I’ve done it,” Parmley said. “But I would have a very hard time explaining to somebody in Goessel or Peabody why an ambulance had to come from Tampa.”

In other matters, commissioners: heard road concerns from Aulne residents Eugene and Rob Just about upcoming work on 140th Rd.

They also listened to budget presentation from the 8th Judicial District; did a department head review of Krista Schneider with the health department; discussed possible radio upgrades with sheriff Jeff Soyez; heard chemical bids for the weed department from transfer station director Josh Housman; and listened to road department business.

Last modified June 9, 2022

 

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