John R. Wayne, Interim Fire Chief Lehigh Acres Fire
By John R. Wayne, M.A.A., EMT-P
Interim Fire Chief Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District
In reference to the potential closure/relocation of the 88-bed Lehigh Regional Medical Center…this will amount to the ER becoming nothing more than another “urgent care” center.
Any ambulance patient that would likely require an admission to the hospital for their illness and/or injury would be better served at another area hospital in Ft. Myers. If our crews transported these potential “admissions” to the remaining ER at Lehigh Regional, we would be doing the patient a disservice. In this scenario, the patient would require an Ambulance transfer to another facility in Ft. Myers better equipped to deliver the appropriate level of medical care. As a result, these patients would incur two (2) Ambulance bills and multiple medical facility charges as well. This is not an efficient use of the pre-hospital care system in Lee County or in the patient’s best interest. It is our job to deliver our medically stable patients to the most appropriate receiving facility that is properly staffed/equipped to treat their specific condition on the initial transport.
Lehigh Acres Fire District ambulances transported 5,476 patients to area hospitals during the calendar year 2012 and 2,984 (54%) of these patients were transported to Lehigh Regional Medical Center. Currently, the Lee County Common EMS Treatment Guidelines (the Medical Protocol that all Lee County Ambulance Transport Services operate under) specifically states that “patients shall be transported to the local hospital of their choice,” now this choice (Lehigh Regional Medical Center) will be taken away from these individuals as they will be forced to seek treatment from another facility other than their local “community hospital.” The collateral damage that will be created with this potential change in hospital status impacts the Fire District in several ways. This will result in more patients being transported to Ft. Myers hospitals; therefore, there will be fewer Ambulances available in Lehigh Acres for an immediate/timely response. Typically, transports into Ft. Myers add an additional hour to each unit’s available time as a result of the 20-30 mile additional round trip. In addition, the Ft. Myers receiving facilities often have Ambulances waiting up to an hour or more to “off-load” patients. This could potentially add an additional hour, resulting in up to a two (2) hour long delay in our Ambulances being able to return to the Fire District to handle additional calls for service.
As a point of interest, the number of patients that the Fire District transported in 2012 was 23.4% higher than the previous year and the District has transported 301 out of 560 patients to date (February 4th) to Lehigh Regional Medical Center. At this pace the Fire District looks to surpass the 2012 results in all areas once again.
I hope that the individuals responsible for this potential change review all aspects of how this will impact the residents and visitors of Lehigh Acres, Florida.
In addition, Glades County EMS, Hendry County EMS, and Collier County EMS (Immokalee) routinely transport to Lehigh Regional Medical Center as well. This closure/change will have an impact on these services also.