Hospital Closing Forces Emergency Meeting for Gulf County Commissioners

We hear the term "health care crisis" quite a bit, sometimes used too causally. Gulf County commissioners are faced with a real crisis.

The state shut down the county's only hospital Tuesday. The closest emergency room for most is in Bay County.

Commissioners held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon to explore their options. The county is now pledging thousands of dollars to build an urgent care center.

When the doors closed at Gulf Pines Hospital Tuesday night about 70 people were left with the reality of unemployment and the lack of emergency health care in the area.

Jonathan Burns of the state Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the license for Gulf Pines Hospital late Tuesday.

"We sympathize with those who may be inconvenienced by the closure of the hospital there at Gulf Pines but our concern for patients' safety outweighs the inconvenience people down there may experience."

Wednesday afternoon, Gulf County commissioners held an emergency meeting to move forward with their own plans to ensure health care in the area. Members of the county's health care committee told the board an urgent care facility could open at the Health Department in Port St. Joe in just two weeks with an estimated startup cost of about $58,000.

Commissioners unanimously approved funding for the startup, saying they will work with the city of Port St. Joe and the St. Joe Company to cover the expense. They also asked the committee to give more consideration to hiring former Gulf Pines employees.

Jim McKnight and Douglas Kent, the Director of the Health Department along with Dr. Michael White, the former ER Director for Gulf Pines will work to open the urgent care facility within two weeks.

The estimated total cost to operate the urgent care facility on a yearly basis is more than $800,000.