Healthmark Regional Medical Center ER still closed after three months

Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - When it comes to our more rural areas, there aren’t many options for medical help. And when the only emergency room in North Walton County closes its doors for renovations, it makes getting help that much harder.

The emergency room at Healthmark Regional Medical Center in Defuniak Springs was supposed to be back open after just a few short weeks. But, it’s been nearly three months since closing in March.

“One main thing that we’ve run into is there is obviously no local ER anymore so all of our transports have to be taken, you know, 35-45 minutes away,” Tim Turner, EMS Chief for Walton County Fire Rescue, said.

It’s been a tough adjustment as the Walton County Fire District pushes to meet the “you call, we haul” EMS standard.

“So if you call 911 we’ll take you to the hospital,” Turner said. “That’s great in theory but you know in today’s society where our resources are kind of strapped and we’re having to make ends meet the best we can, it doesn’t work out well.”

They not only brought on a seventh ambulance truck, but also a new way of handling 911 calls with the help of Telehealth.

“So we can go out to these houses and basically say, our community paramedic can say this is not really an emergency. This is probably something you can have seen at your doctor’s office for. But if you don’t have a primary care physician, we can connect you basically right here on our tablet,” Turner said.

It hasn’t been easy. Turner said they were used to bringing more than 1,000 patients to Healthmark’s ER every year.

“As far as any extra added pressure, I think a lot of that I think is going to come in just the time that our crews are having to spend on the road a little more,” Turner said.

Officials also said the refusal rate has skyrocketed over the last few months.

“So they’re going 30 miles out of county to Crestview or Fort Walton Beach or you know we have people in the north end that will go down to Emerald Coast,” Turner said. “And they just don’t have a way to get back.”

But Turner said they’re doing what they can to help everyone while the ER remains shut.

As of right now, it’s unclear when the emergency room will be opening its doors back up.

NewsChannel 7 was approached by a representative of the hospital while on scene. When we requested a comment, they declined and said they will comment when they’re ready.

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