Stewart Memorial forms new partnership

LAKE CITY – A new partnership between a hospital and a county emergency services department is expected to bring benefits to not only the new partners but also the people of Calhoun County.

Last month, Calhoun County Ambulance agreed to provide its services to Stewart Memorial Community Hospital.

Kerrie Hull, Calhoun County’s emergency medical services director, said the partnership has been in the making for much of the year.

“We’d been partnering with the hospital since early spring, assisting with some of their oversight and helping them with some billing issues regarding ambulances,” Hull said. “They were also having struggles with recruitment and retention with paramedics. As a county service, we’re able to pull in more people.”

Heather Cain, president and chief executive officer of Stewart Memorial Community Hospital, said it made sense to partner with Calhoun County Ambulance.

“We have a good relationship with Calhoun County EMS, mainly with helping us with leadership roles in our EMS department,” Cain said. “We said, said ‘Let’s pause before we go out and attempt to recruit more paramedics.’ We’ve had conversations with how we could maybe, in a more efficient way, partner with the county to handle staffing.”

Though the agreement doesn’t officially begin until Sept. 1, Hull said there has already been a lot of work done to help ease the transition.

“We have a temporary agreement where staff employed in Calhoun County can fill in,” she said. “The hospital reimburses us for the time. It’s nice because it allows us to figure out if anything will need to change, and it’s been working really well.”

Most of the changes, if any, won’t be noticeable, according to Cain.

“It’s not going to change any way in terms of the service or responsiveness to the residents of Lake City,” she said. “We will partner with the county and they will staff a crew at Stewart Memorial.”

The only real difference will be that the paramedics will be working through Calhoun County Ambulance and not the hospital.

“There will be a few different faces because the county is hiring paramedics,” Cain said. “But the coverage will be exactly the same.”

Hull said right now there are two Calhoun County employees on duty at the hospital.

“The response time will be a little bit better,” Hull said. “Hopefully we’ll alleviate the burdens on the volunteers a little bit.”

Cain said the residents of Calhoun County will benefit the most.

“We can ensure the high-quality, paramedic-level EMS care everyone is accustomed to,” she said. “There will be less turnover and more continuity in staffing. The biggest benefit will be the continuity of service for years to come.”

Hull agreed.

“I think this will be a really good continuation of our partnership we’ve had almost since the beginning of the year,” she said. “It’s going to make patient care a lot more seamless for our area.”