A divided Letcher Fiscal Court declined this week to send an official letter admonishing the Kentucky General Assembly for ignoring the county government’s earlier request that Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital not receive $100,000 of the county’s coal severance tax allocation.
A request to send the letter protesting the state’s action to 92nd District Rep. John Short, 94th District Rep. Leslie Combs and 29th District Senator Johnny Ray Turner failed at the court’s June meeting by a vote of three to three. Kingscreek resident Bill Meade had requested the action after addressing the court about what he described as substandard treatment given to his wife in the emergency room of the Whitesburg hospital.
Meade told the court he had taken his wife to the hospital on May 25 with extremely high blood pressure, but that the emergency room doctor gave her no medication to bring her blood pressure down. Because of a series of complications with ambulances and a medical evacuation helicopter, Meade said it took too long to get her to transferred to a hospital in Lexington and she suffered a stroke. Meade said he doesn’t think the ER doctor knew how to treat his wife’s symptoms and added that only after Whitesburg physician Van Breeding arrived at the hospital did she get the treatment she needed.
“He saved her life,” said Meade.
Meade said Breeding put his wife on a ventilator to assist with her breathing. He said the medevac helicopter was already preparing to transfer another patient to Pikeville and by the time it could return it was too foggy to fly. He said the Neon Ambulance Service has two paramedics, but that one was already on an out-ofcounty run and the other could not leave because the service is required to keep one in Letcher County at all times. The Letcher Fire Department ambulance service doesn’t have a paramedic so an ambulance had to be brought in from another county to make the run to Lexington.
Meade told the court that in a later conversation with Whitesburg ARH Community Chief Executive Officer Deana Sparkman he was told the hospital has no control in choosing ER physicians because they are part of a contracting service that provides emergency doctors. Meade first asked the court to vote to deny the hospital the $100,000 in coal severance funds that go toward indigent care, but District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming told him the court had voted previously to take that allocation out of a list of priorities sent to the legislature for coal severance funds only to see it restored during the legislative session. Meade then asked for the court to write an official letter protesting the action, but Fleming’s motion died in the deadlock vote with Fleming, District Four Magistrate Keith Adams and District Two Magistrate Terry Adams voting to send the letter and Judge/Executive Jim Ward, District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson and District One Magistrate Bobby Howard voting no.
Fleming, who had made the request that ARH be dropped from the coal severance tax priority list at the court’s February meeting, said he and Judge Ward had met with Sparkman after the funding was restored. He said Sparkman told him the $100,000 provided by the court for indigent care allowed the hospital to use its own money for other necessities. The $100,000 is used as matching funds for grants that provide $400,000 in indigent care funds. Fleming said the money does not increase the overall funding for indigent care since the hospital then takes its allocation to use for other things.
Sparkman, however, said that money from the ARH chain is not eligible to be used as matching funds for an indigent care grant and only money provided by local government is eligible for use as matching funds, which multiplies the original $100,000 by four.
“Their money is worth more (for matching funds) than ours,” Sparkman said.
After the vote, Ward asked if the court really wanted to take away funding that provides care to those who cannot afford to pay for it. Magistrate Terry Adams said it is a shame that ARH has no control over the physicians who work in its ER. Both Meade and Fleming praised the regular staff at the hospital, saying that the regular doctors and nurses provide excellent care.
Sparkman told The Mountain Eagle Tuesday that patient privacy laws (HIPPA) prohibit her or other hospital personnel from discussing specific issues related to the Meade case. However, Sparkman said she is very sympathetic with the Meade family and understands the frustrations of people who are waiting for care for loved ones in emergency room situations. She said the majority of patients who receive emergency care at WARH are very satisfied with their care and said the hospital’s policy is the worst injured or sickest patients must be treated first.
She said ARH would prefer to have local physicians who specialize in emergency care, but there just aren’t enough to go around.
Sparkman also said the Whitesburg hospital has partnered with the University of Kentucky Stroke Affiliate Network in an effort to improve stroke treatment statewide. As a result of the partnership, new protocols are currently being implemented for stroke treatment.