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Tyrrell EMS services continue after hospital closure

Washington County Hospital, a 25-bed critical care facility in Plymouth, closed its doors on Feb. 14.

The county commissioners there, who sold the property to a limited liability corporation in 2007, succeeded in getting the Bankruptcy Court to appoint an interim trustee on Feb. 22.

“His appointment will enable the county and other creditors to begin to work with the Trustee to move more quickly to identify and preserve the hospital’s assets and also potentially enable the continuation of certain operations which may still be viable to provide during the pending bankruptcy process such as the continuation of primary practice health care services, radiology and lab services,” stated Curtis Potter, Washington County manager/attorney.

Of immediate concern was the status of future emergency medical services to Tyrrell residents. David Clegg, Tyrrell manager/attorney, issued the following statement on Feb. 22:

“Tyrrell County has no EMS contract connection to Washington County Hospital. Tyrrell EMS operates through a contracted relationship between Tyrrell County and Washington County. The provisions of the Tyrrell/Washington contract do not rely in any way on the operation of the Washington County hospital. Most Tyrrell EMS calls requiring transport are trips to Vidant Chowan in Edenton and Vidant Pitt in Greenville.

“It is understood that calls [transports] in Washington County that would normally have terminated at Washington County Hospital are diverted and that longer travel times to alternative facilities may result. (Less than 4% of Tyrrell County calls terminated at the Washington County Hospital.)  Those logistic issues are being ably handled by Washington EMS with their existing fleet.

“The provisions of the Tyrrell/Washington contract remain unchanged, and the staffing and staging of crews and ambulances and their responses to 911 calls continue as before the diversion in January. Tyrrell County officials are in close communication with Washington County officials to monitor system operations and provide support.

“The closure of the hospital is an ongoing reality for the system and we will all be looking at the long-term operational changes that will be necessary to support the new facility landscape.

“Also, Tyrrell medical examiner needs formerly handled by Washington County Hospital have been graciously accepted by Vidant Chowan.”

Jennifer O’Neal, Washington-Tyrrell EMS director, reported to Tyrrell commissioners on Feb. 5 that the hospital had gone “on total EMS diversion January 14.”

The hospital administrator had cited inability to provide certain laboratory services as reason for turning away ambulances, she stated.

Subsequently, EMS has been transporting patients to Vidant Chowan, Vidant Bertie, Vidant Beaufort, Martin General and The Outer Banks Hospital.

Vidant Eastcare has assisted with the transfer of patients to Vidant Greenville. “This has helped with the burden on EMS as our turnaround time has been greatly increased with transporting all patients outside the county,” O’Neal said.

The “heavy burden” for EMS is also seen in increased mileage on an aging fleet and more gaps in coverage when all units are transporting patients to outlying facilities.

Washington-Tyrrell EMS is also utilizing its quick response vehicle and activating mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties very frequently to provide first response and ambulance coverage in times of peak call volume, she stated.

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