Medic 94 service continues uninterrupted despite looming closure of hospital12/20/2021 04:05PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Medic 94, the advanced life support system that responds to life-threatening accidents and sudden illnesses in southern Chester County, will continue its service uninterrupted despite the imminent closing of its landlord, Jennersville Hospital, on Jan. 1, 2022.
The Medic 94 unit is housed in the east end of the hospital, as it has been for 38 years, and its vehicles function as emergency rooms on wheels. Medic 94 paramedics drive to serious incidents and often accompany the patients to hospitals, administering care in the ambulances that have arrived on the scene as well.
On Sept. 27, Tower Health, Jennersville’s owner, announced the impending closing of the hospital. Then on Nov. 22, Tower announced a deal with Canyon Atlantic Partners to purchase the hospital and keep it open.
That was a relief to Medic 94 CEO Bob Hotchkiss, who, as soon as the closing was announced, had been strategizing ways for his unit to continue operations.
But on Dec. 8, bad news arrived again when Tower announced that the deal with Canyon had fallen through. Not only would Jennersville close on Dec. 31, but Brandywine Hospital in Caln would also close on Jan. 31, 2022.
Hotchkiss, who has been with Medic 94 for 30 years – 23 of them as CEO -- issued this public statement on Dec. 18:
“Let me assure the community that we serve, Medic 94's service will be uninterrupted across southern Chester County, as it has been for 38 years. We have no formal relationship with Tower Health so the hospital closing will not change our delivery of best-in-class advanced life support services to the area, nor the security of the jobs of our paramedics.”
He added that at least one of the advanced life support units will continue to be based in the Jennersville area, while they establish a more permanent location in Penn Township.
With the eventuality of the hospital – Medic 94’s landlord – closing, Hotchkiss began early planning on how to cope while maintaining service.
Hotchkiss listed in order three major tasks he had to deal with: finding a new physical headquarters; establishing a new vendor from whom to buy supplies; and accommodating the staffing of longer rides and distances to other hospitals.
Looking back, he said when the formal announcement of the planned closing came on Sept. 27, he was shocked and disappointed. He thought maybe the hospital would be sold, but he didn’t anticipate an actual closing.
The first thing he dealt with was finding a new home. Fortunately, officials in the surrounding 17 municipalities Medic 94 serves responded enthusiastically with help right away.
“They told me, ‘Anything we can do to help.’ Penn Township said we could move into their facility, but they had no garage for our vehicles. Jenner’s Pond offered a cottage with a garage. New London said they had a house. The fire companies offered as well, but their locations [skewed away from] the center of our service area,” he said.
Following the suggestion of one supporter, he asked Tower Health if Medic 94 could remain in the building for six months. He was granted permission for three.
“Three months. That’s fantastic. It gets us through the winter,” he recalled thinking.
That was the first step.
The second was finding another place to buy supplies. Up until now they worked with Tower Health and were able to get what they needed—and often at a discount.
He contacted another local hospital and said they agreed right away to serve as his vendor.
The third challenge was filling the staffing gaps that would be created by accompanying patients to hospitals father away – the time element.
Hotchkiss figured that he needed one more part-time paramedic and acquisition of another monitor. The cost is estimated at $200,000. He said he was gratified by the response of almost all the municipalities and donors. They were jumping in right away with financial support.
“This community is very generous. I think they appreciated what we provided. My phone was ringing off the hook,” he said.
Meanwhile, the public and elected representatives expressed their dismay at the possibility of losing a local hospital and jumped in to seek solutions.
“State Rep. John Lawrence, County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz, and state Sen. Carolyn Comitta: They said, ‘You need to keep the hospital here,’ and they know Medic 94 needs to be here in Penn Township,” Hotchkiss said.
Medic 94 transports more than 1,000 patients a year to Jennersville Hospital. With the closing of both Jennersville and Brandywine Hospital, more than 40,000 patients who visited the two emergency departments annually will need to seek care at more distant hospitals.
He said he expects EMS call volume to increase, transport times to increase and times to transfer patients at already overcrowded emergency departments to increase. When his paramedic crew cannot transfer a patient at the hospital due to overcrowding, it means time that EMS crews are not available for responses back in the district, he added.
Hotchkiss said his medics have experienced increasing instances of one-to-two hours of waiting with a patient on the stretcher in the emergency department because no bed is available. Adding the additional 30 minutes after the patient is transferred for the MEDIC 94 vehicles to get back into the district and available due to the more distant transport distance, it places the EMS resources under a serious strain.
Meanwhile, Hotchkiss said, he and his staff have had to meet and engage in some self-examination. They need to come up with scenarios and solutions for circumstances that are happening now that Jennersville is diminishing. These are things like familiarity with the staffs of other hospitals, providing blood-taking for the state police DUIs, increased turnaround times, maintenance of equipment and transporting patients home after treatment at farther hospitals, to name a few.
“The impact of closing a hospital is far beyond what people think. We have to make sure the impact of life support stays here. We’re riding the wave. Everybody has been so supportive. It’s been humbling,” Hotchkiss concluded.