Beebe officials address concerns about emergency services

About 50 people attended an information session hosted by state Rep. Gerald Hocker and Sen. George Bunting this week to answer any questions people had about Beebe Medical Center’s new walk-in center in Millville, and the fact that there will no longer be a seasonal emergency center in operation at the location.

The center, in Creekside Plaza, located next to the Food Lion shopping center, will now be open year-round for non-emergency medical needs, along the lines of issues a primary-care doctor would treat.

Alex Sydnor, vice president of External Affairs for Beebe Medical Center, explained that because people were visiting the center for non-emergency issues when it was operating as an emergency room, they often got billed by their insurance company at a higher rate — something about which the hospital got a lot of complaints.

According to Sydnor, “98 percent of them didn’t need an emergency room, and the other 2 percent generally weren’t traumas.”

He also addressed on June 11 sugestions that Beebe Medical Center was changing the seasonal emergency room to a walk-in center to cut costs.

“This is not about cutting costs. As a not-for profit, we make money on some things and lose on others. On each Medicare patient that is in-patient (at the main campus in Lewes), that stays overnight one night, we lose about $3,500. This was not about losing money or cutting costs. We actually anticipate losing money on the walk-in in the beginning.”

He said because they are concerned that, for the first summer, people will still think it is an emergency department, they do plan on having a doctor on staff this summer. By law, a walk-in clinic can be staffed by a nurse practitioner and a doctor only needs to be on call. After this summer, he said, they will look at the figures to determine overhead costs and what their staffing needs will be.

Mailers have been sent to every local household and also to rental agencies in the area to try to get the word out about the change.

Many people have expressed concern about what they would do now if they did have a life-threatening emergency, but, according to Beebe, the answer to that concern is what is has always been: call 911.

Dr. Eric Gallagher explained that, many times, the center saw people with ankle sprains, sunburns, fever and sore throats. And the times when they did have a critical patient, time was actually lost by them coming to Millville first.

“We weren’t set up for it,” he said of those critical situations. “We are fortunate to have a great EMS system set up in this state. If you call, they will take care of you.”

“In addition, if you came to Millville and needed air transport, the state police couldn’t do it because they couldn’t do inter-facility transport. But, if you were at home, they could land in your back yard.”

When asked what a couple should do if they were shopping at one of the nearby grocery stores and the husband was having a heart attack, he answered, “Call 911 — that’s what we would do.” Later he said they did have similar stabilizing equipment and some medications that would help in such a situation, but the EMS is much more equipped for such emergency situations.

Bob Stewart, director of the Sussex County EMS, said they have seen a sharp rise in calls to EMS in the 17 or 18 days the center has been open as a walk-in, but he said he hopes it’s just an adjustment period in which people have to realize it is no longer an emergency center.

“We are monitoring it daily to make sure we have enough paramedics available,” he said, noting that this time last year they had had two calls from Millville and this year they have had 11 already from the center for ambulance calls.

“We are hoping the education will help immensely.”

Both Sydnor and Gallagher then repeated that the best thing to do when people have a potentially life-threatening emergency is to call 911.

Gordon Wood, mayor of Ocean View and a member of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, asked if Beebe representatives could sit down with fire company members to talk about how the change might affect them. Several were in the room for the meeting but left after an alarm rang.

“I’m going to ask what I think they were going to touch on, had they not been called out of the room to do what they do,” he said.

Sydnor said he recognizes that there will be a burden on area first-responders now that there is no emergency department closer than Lewes.

“We recognize the burden on other service organizations when the service level changes, and we are sending grants in anticipation of that problem as a starting gesture.” He said Millville Volunteer Fire Company will receive $7,500 and the Bethany Beach and Roxana volunteer fire companies will receive $3,500 each.

Because the overwhelming majority of patients seen were non-emergency cases anyway, the hospital administration said a walk-in center better fits the needs of all involved. Despite the growth in the area, the need for an emergency department has yet to be illustrated, they said.

“Doctors have to keep their skills sharp,” said Sydnor. “And do you want a doctor there sitting on his hands? It wasn’t a very busy [emergency department]. It’s not a great situation for providing great care — it’s just not.”

Gallagher said that, as soon as the doors shut on Labor Day each year, they would be on the phone recruiting doctors, but it was “virtually impossible” to find people willing to come for the three months out of the year that the emergency center was open. Sydnor said they were also working hard to recruit primary-care doctors, in general, to Sussex County, because there is a shortage.

Sydnor said they still do have plans for a medical center on Route 17 that would be built in phases, and the hospital does have site plans for that center, but the money is just not there right now.

“The real estate market crashing, the stock market crashing and the Earl Bradley case all decreased our assets and our ability to borrow money to build the facility we still want to build on Route 17.”

He said that plan is to build the $25 million project in phases.

“We are still planning to build. We just can’t tell you when. We don’t have $25 million right now.”

He said part of those plans includes a 25-bed critical-care facility.

A possibility they are looking into, he said, includes finding a developer and being a tenant of the land instead of buying and building everything and owning it outright. He also said there are situations across the state and nation in which medical facilities have physician investor/tenants — something they are also exploring for the Route 17 facility.

In the meantime, Beebe’s walk-in center is now open year-round. The center will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those summer hours will continue until Labor Day. Autumn hours will be determined by demand. No appointments are necessary for local residents or visitors.

Examples of the illnesses and health problems that will be appropriate for treatment in the Beebe Walk-in Center include: allergies; cough, cold, flu; upper respiratory infections; bronchitis; laryngitis; strep throat/sore throat; sinus infections; ear infections; swimmer’s ear; minor eye infections, pinkeye, sties and abrasions; bladder infections; sprains and strains; minor burns, cuts and simple lacerations; uncomplicated neck and back pain; incision and drainage; and simple splinting.

The telephone number at the Walk-in Center is (302) 541-4175.