Some good came from hospital closure

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The sudden closure of Southern Palmetto Hospital in January 2016 caused cardiac arrest in Barnwell County. Since that time, the county’s healthcare situation has stablized but still needs improving.

The news of the closure took most by surprise. It hit our small community hard because it impacted everyone in some way. Even if they did not utilize the local hospital people in Barnwell County had a sense of security knowing it was here and had been since the 1950s.

As the old adage goes, “You never know what you have until it’s gone.” Many in our community gained a greater appreciation for what we had in the hospital and how we lost it.

However, the closure hasn’t been all bad news over the last year. We’ve seen a few positive things emerge, including how the remaining healthcare and emergency entities left to deal with the aftermath have upped their games.

For one, EMTs have worked to become more efficient so they can transport patients quicker and return home to be ready for the next call.

Low Country Healthcare System, with a bit of financial support from Barnwell County Council, is working to expand services and hours to better serve residents. An x-ray machine purchased by the county will soon be operational and the facility will be open later on week nights.

There’s also been more collaboration and communication, particularly among first responders. Firefighters are assisting EMTs more with medic calls when needed. Medshore Ambulance Service has provided free training for those firefighters who want to be first responders.

Medshore has also invested in more ambulances for Barnwell County. Only six are required by contract but eight are now stationed here with one more soon to be delivered.

Regular meetings involving Medshore officials and county leaders have taken place to understand and monitor the impact of the closure on response times.

Air Methods, a company that operates a fleet of medical helicopters, has also responded by offering a low-cost insurance program which vastly reduces the personal cost of medical transport by air. These flights can cost tens of thousands of dollars, most of which is often not covered by insurance. Now it is.

Politically, a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes over the past year. Healthcare is a complicated issue and, in the end, it is a business that has to make financial sense.

On local and state levels efforts are continuing to find a more permanent solution to the county’s emergency or advanced healthcare needs. National leaders have also been made aware of the issue to see where they can help.

County leaders, state legislators and hospital owners have all expressed their hopes with finding a solution soon. Some have hinted there could be positive news in the coming months.

Barnwell County Councilman Jerry Creech, who serves on the county’s safety committee, said 2017 “is going to be a very good year for healthcare.”

We are hopeful this will be true.

Regardless of what happens, we hope the new relationships and sense of teamwork will continue.

If a hospital, emergency room or some other facility opens, we encourage residents to support it. A lack of support by local residents and physicians was one reason Southern Palmetto Hospital failed.

The closure of the hospital is a good reminder to truly value what we have in Barnwell County by supporting our local businesses, organizations, churches, schools, medical offices and other amenities.

We need to support one another. Be uplifting in what you say, do and post. Help an elderly neighbor. Pay for the meal of the person behind you in the drive-thru. Volunteer at one of the numerous non-profits, agencies and schools looking to make a difference.

A strong community needs strong people and partnerships to not just survive but thrive.