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Letter: What the future of our health care could be

Staff Writer
The Apalach Times

Things used to be more cut and dried than they are today. We didn’t always agree, but we got along better, avoiding rank partisanship. Unfortunately, we have entered an Orwellian age. Two plus two will always equal four, no matter what your political or social proclivity. A decision not to select Sacred Heart as the replacement for county-led healthcare meets this kind of 2 plus 2 logic.

Last week, I needed to take my wife for urgent medical care; fortunately, she’ll be fine. In the past we’d drive to Tallahassee and go to Capital Regional’s Emergency Room for really concerning events. This time we decided to try their ER standalone clinic that just opened up in Southwood, as we were not concerned about imminent death, and it was closer.

This is the future of healthcare. Everyone in Franklin County needs to visit a standalone emergency room. The experience was fantastic and would be very similar to what you could expect if we partnered with Sacred Heart and the county builds one in Franklin County.

We were seen and triaged immediately, no tedious check-in; that came later when the immediate medical concerns were taken care of. Two highly trained RNs inserted an IV line, and a portable x-ray machine was wheeled into our spotless room. Then, various vitals, history and other issues were assessed and then the doctor came in, not only with a smile, but with board certification in emergency medicine, not so at Weems. After looking at the x-ray which was read within 10 minutes, and blood work shortly thereafter, he felt the need for a CT scan and my wife went right down the hall to their new, million-dollar-plus CT scan machine. In contrast, Weems has an antiquated CT scan which is not able to reveal myriad diagnostic issues. Which would you want for your loved one?

Finally, it was time for the admin stuff. An aide wheels in a cart with an iPad on it and as if by magic, a woman video chats with my wife, takes pictures of ID and insurance information and poof! it was finished. Shortly thereafter, we are ready to go home, barely two-and-a-half hours from walking in. Color us impressed! ERs like this one are an extension of their parent hospital, therefore had there been a need to go to Capital Regional, the transfer would have been seamless, with no additional check-in or potential delays.

Folks, close to 95 percent of issues seen by Weems can be seen at a standalone walk-in clinic like we went to. The other 5 percent don’t need a clinic, and they won’t be appropriately seen at Weems because it lacks the services for those severely injured, very sick or requiring specialized services Weems simply does not have. We are endangering people’s lives by sending them to a hospital (Weems) that lacks the services and staff to treat the minimal 5 percent.

The problem is, we think we have a hospital with Weems but really have an emergency room with beds that are by and large… empty. This will not change in the proposed “Stay the Course” path, unless and until you want to spend a zillion dollars to enlarge, equip and start hiring specialized doctors, nurses and other people that support those specialized services. Weems does not belong to a network hospital system which delays critical care too often.

Small-town interests of the few are a legitimate issue. Political interests, hospital employee interests and even those that live around Weems are used to the status quo. Are we thinking what’s best for the county as a whole, or for our own special interests? Let me say something unpopular but necessary.

Keeping the status quo will lead to more people dying unnecessarily or receiving delayed or substandard care. Some people want their perks, inflated CEO pay ($125,000 a year), power, patronage and perceived convenience ahead of what is good for Eastpoint, Carrabelle, St. George Island and frankly, most of Apalachicola.

Alliant Healthcare has publicly promised the current CEO his job will continue under them. Too many self-interested people support a continuation of more of the same, even though Weems is hemorrhaging money, does not have a viable conception of what’s next, and continues to blindly plunge forward to build a new, unnecessary hospital. It will not end well.

The self-interests of too many people in Apalachicola are driving us off the cliff. Many of you have called and written to your commissioners and yet, our commission has allowed Weems to bring in yet another consultant to help “turn the hospital around and teach best practices.” Shouldn’t a pending near-term decision on which direction healthcare in Franklin County should take come first? Instead, the Weems hospital board is forging ahead - without the approval of the commission - on their own assumption that a new facility is forthcoming. How is that even possible?

The constant drumbeat of political chaos has affected all of us, even right here in Franklin County. We throw up our hands at our individual inability to change things. You know the county commission staying in the healthcare business is a train wreck in progress. Most of us want the madness to stop and see commissioners do what they are paid to do, and lead the way out of this long term, expensive, unproductive $20 million-and-counting losses mess.

I call on everyone in Franklin County to hammer their representatives who are playing with your very life, and demand the county get out of the healthcare business and turn it over to Qualified Experts. The obvious and best candidate… Sacred Heart. Sooner or later there will be a tragedy, regret and a reckoning. Don’t wait until we are well and truly staring down the barrel of a gun of some financial crisis or avoidable tragedy.

Allan Feifer

President, Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.