The hospital sets up an occasional diversion statute; ambulances save time by car

JACKSON COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) – When unexpected emergencies arise, people like Tolby Markham, who lives in Wellston, Ohio, expect an ambulance to get them to the nearest hospital within minutes.

“It’s a potentially life-threatening situation… let’s say I have a heart attack or a stroke,” Markham said.

However, in recent weeks, those living in Jackson County, where Holzer is that county’s only hospital, have at times been forced to find other options.

“We had a patient who waited over 200 hours for a bed last week,” said Mike Canady, CEO of Holzer Health System.

Canady says a combination of patients waiting to be administered at the hospital as well as staffing issues are the reason Holzer has intermittently moved to diversion status at his Jackson and Gallipolis hospitals.

A diversion status means they are unable to accept ambulance arrivals.

“What keeps me from sleeping at night more than anything else is worrying that we have a patient who needs our services and we are not able to provide those services,” Canady said.

He says the impact of COVID-19 is causing shortages. For example, he says there have been cases where nurses have burned out or taken on another travel nurse job that brings in more money.

This imbalanced ratio of under-staffed and overworked patients is the reason the hospital has to divert ambulance patients elsewhere.

“The next hospital we would go to would be Gallia County, which when it gets a diversion along with Jackson County we then have to head to SOMC in Portsmouth or Adena in County of Ross, “said Ryan Pelletier, who is the Wellston Fire Chief.

Pelletier says the extra driving time to get patients to other hospitals in the area can range from 45 minutes to an hour.

“What keeps me awake at night is situations like this,” said Pelletier.

The minutes that Markham says can be the difference between life and death.

“It’s very scary,” Markham said.

Canady says Holzer has seen a slight increase in the number of COVID-19 patients over the past two months, particularly in October.

He stresses the importance of getting the vaccine to help hospitals like Holzer not be so overwhelmed, which in turn would help not having to implement diversion statutes so frequently.

On Friday afternoon, Canady said Holzer had withdrawn his diversion status from hospitals in Jackson and Gallipolis.

The hospital says it will continue to reassess every 12 hours to see if another diversion status is needed.

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