Lee County

Rescue squad faces the challenge of longer drives, higher costs

JONESVILLE, Va. - When Wellmont Health Systems closed Lee Regional Medical Center in September it created an extra burden for the county's rescue squads.

"It's life or death," said Raymond Williams, a Jonesville resident.

And as the reality of not having a hospital sets in Williams realizes time isn't on his side when it comes to getting to the closest hospital now in Big Stone Gap.
"That's a long way to go for a heart attack victim or someone like that, they might be cut short," said Williams.

Since Wellmont Health Systems closed the county's only hospital, Williams and the more than 25,000 people who live in Lee County will have to travel up to 40 minutes to get emergency medical attention.

A longer time for the county's rescue squads to try to keep a person alive is a challenge. "Even though we were traveling 12 miles to Lee Regional now we are traveling 45 minutes doing chest compressions and breathing for you if you are in cardiac arrest or a really serious trauma condition. That distance is against us in time wise," said Lewis Moore, Jonesville Rescue Squad Captain.

Lewis Moore showed us how the extra travel time has caused them to have to put more gas in the tank.

He told News 5 in October they spent more than $1,000 for fuel compared to $400 in September. In the month of October his crews clocked 1,030 miles while taking patients to area hospitals, compared to 300 miles the month before.

While they run about 40 to 60 calls per month, sometimes those calls come at the same time and with longer drive times.

They now rely on other rescue squads in the county for help. "We usually keep two crews, we have three trucks. There are times I can have three crews, but it's usually very seldom. But if we have both crews out or we only have on crew on call and that crew is busy taking someone to the hospital then Thomas Walker or Pennington usually cover our calls," Moore sdaid.

As for Williams, he tells News 5 he'll do what he can before he calls an ambulance.

"I'll try to make it myself, I'll try my best to get my family members there," said Williams.

The Jonesville Rescue Squad tells us they bill the patient's insurance companies for the additional cost.

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