GEORGETOWN — Without much fanfare or an announcement, Southwest Regional Medical Center shuttered their doors one Friday afternoon, a little more than a year ago.
The hospital’s closure on September 26, 2014 sent shock waves throughout the county. Hundreds employed at the hospital and its sister home care offices were suddenly unemployed, as SWRMC woke up that morning to find they could not pay their reported $500,000 bi-monthly payroll bill.
There were some warning signs leading to their ultimate demise, like when repo men showed up at the hospital and began taking furniture and equipment out of the hospital following a court order. The hospital administrators and its then-lawyer, Rob Hoskins, managed to return the equipment back inside, but it seems that the hospital didn’t have an answer for the many debtors asking for their money all at once.
After failing to make payments on both medical equipment from the Georgetown Emergency Group and an MRI machine with CIT Group, a court order led to garnishment’s on the hospital’s funds, leaving them as dry as a desert. The disastrous financial management under former President and CEO Dr. Krishna Surapaneni forced the hospital to close.
Since the hospital closed, there have been many folks across the county and the region affected, but the hardest hit were the emergency response agencies located closest to the hospital.
Georgetown Fire and EMS, Hamersville EMS, Higginsport EMS, and Russellville Fire and EMS have all struggled dealing with the longer drive times when picking up a patient, as they are now all forced to take patients either to Mercy Health – Mt. Orab Medical Center, Mercy Health – Clermont Hospital in Batavia, or Mercy Health – Anderson Hospital in Anderson Township.
“It’s been brutal, to be honest,” Georgetown Fire and EMS chief Joe Rockey said. “We cover 54 square miles, so for the most part, in 15 minutes or less, we could be at a facility (SWRMC) offering and rendering care. Now, our options are Mercy Mt. Orab, which is a good facility but we’ve been instructed if there’s a patient that should be admitted, we should take them directly to an admitting hospital, which is either Mason County, Kentucky, Clermont, or Anderson.
“Our transport times have more than doubled, at best, and that’s just if we go to Mt. Orab.”
The longer travel times to admitting facilities has led to a scheduling nightmare for Rockey, even though the Fire and EMS department remains self-sufficient.
“The problem is that we pay our EMTs per run, so they went from making so much per hour before to below minimum wage now,” Rockey said. “And a second problem is the time it takes (to transport). Before, I could leave my house, complete an EMS run, and be home in an hour. Now, it’s three or so hours. At best, an hour and 45 minutes.
“So if you’ve got to work tomorrow, and with the number of calls we’re answering now, knowing you’re going to have two runs tonight, are you willing to give up four hours of sleep. That’s where the problem lies. They just can’t physically do it. People who were running two or three times a week are now going on runs one night a week.”
The closure of the hospital has forced Rockey and the department to adjust, and they’re surviving for now. But in the future, with more calls and a longer distance to a hospital, ambulances will need to be replaced by the village on a faster basis.
At the same time, the village of Georgetown and other surrounding townships have had to deal with a drop in tax revenue. According to Georgetown Mayor Dale Cahall, SWRMC employed around 200 people, some of whom were earning high wages, and the closure of another former medical facility, Meadowood Nursing Home, caused around 80 jobs to leave the county.
A few years ago, Georgetown raised their income tax rate, so the village hasn’t felt the full brunt of the loss in tax revenue. In addition, Cahall hinted that there’s a chance the hospital could be re-opened in the future, under new management.
“There is still interest in the hospital,” Cahall said. “I’m hoping something will come soon, but that’s yet to be determined.”
Perhaps the hardest hit though are the elder citizens of Brown County. With Mercy Health – Mt. Orab a limited medical facility, retired-age Brown County residents likely now must drive either to Cincinnati, Clermont County, Adams County, or Mason County, Ky. if they want to have a medical procedure done.
In addition, if they suffer a life-threatening injury, such as a stroke or a heart attack, the long distance to make it to a hospital decreases their chances of survival.
According to U.S. Census data from 2010, 14.4 percent of residents in Brown County were 65-years and over, which is 1.4 percent above the national average. According to estimates of population data in 2014, that number of retired-aged residents in the county has increased to 16.7 percent, 2.2 percent above the national average.
“As a patient, that hospital literally saved my life twice,” Brown County Commissioner Barry Woodruff said. “The downside to it being closed from a patient perspective is that if I get sick now, it’s a drive to Mt. Orab, or Clermont Mercy, or if I’m in the southern part of the county, you drive across the bridge to Maysville.
“When that dried up and went away, what do you do in case you have a super emergency, or child birth, etc.? That’s the part that kind of haunts us in the background.
“I always said that was one of the most precious assets that Brown County ever had. Now, unless an entrepreneur comes in to revive it, we’re kind of dead in the water.”
As of October 1, 2015, the hospital is under receivership, under the direction of Sumner “Sonny” Saekes, according to a clerk at the Brown County Court of Common Pleas. Saekes is the principal of New Growth Advisors, an organization that deals with strategic planning, corporate renewal, interim management, and asset recovery systems.
The hospital currently employes five people, who’s sole job is to retrieve medical files for patients requesting them.