Hospital cutbacks weighing on ambulances

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, March 11, 2020


As Panola Medical Center continues to downsize and discontinue some services, the company that operates ambulances in the county is becoming burdened with patient transfers and diversions to other hospitals.

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Emergency Operations Director Daniel Cole told the board of supervisors Monday the hospital had informed him that 911 dispatchers should be aware that some patients should be transported immediately to hospitals in neighboring counties and not brought to Panola Medical.

“It’s getting serious,” Cole said. “We just need to make sure the ambulances know where to take people.”

For their part, Lifeguard is making adjustments to cover Panola County as best possible, but when they are unable to take patients with labor pains to the Batesville hospital and must transport them to either Oxford or Southaven, there is an almost-two span that the ambulance is away from the county.

Lifeguard keeps four ambulances stationed in Panola County, but still needs help from surrounding ambulance services at times. Care Med and Priority, both operating in Lafayette County, are willing to help when available, but Pafford has no working relationship with Panola and can’t be counted on to assist.

Panola Medical has also told emergency personnel to divert stroke patients to other facilities, supervisors learned Monday, leaving them frustrated with the struggling hospital and an ownership and management group that doesn’t communicate with the board directly.

With the ambulances already stretched from hospital cutbacks, Cole said any extra calls mean that wait times are increased. Last Friday, for example, there were four major accidents on I-55 that tied up multiple ambulances most of the day.

The hospital was purchased by the current owners in March of last year after bankruptcy proceedings in Nashville. Since then, they have made considerable changes in personnel, dismissing the chief financial officer and longtime family physician Dr. Michael Havens, who was managing the hospital during the ownership change.

He subsequently sued the hospital for breach of contract and opened another practice in Batesville.

Hospital officials have maintained that providing healthcare in a rural area is a well-appreciated challenge, and cash flow problems are typical for operations the size of Panola Medical.

Cutbacks and streamlining of services are helping to keep the hospital running, they say, and not indicative of the long-term prospects of a successful health facility in Batesville.