BAMBERG - Bamberg County Hospital is positioning itself to pull the plug on inpatient services and place its primary focus on emergency and outpatient services.
The hospital's board of trustees in a special called meeting Tuesday voted to end inpatient care at the facility and shift its focus to ER and outpatient services, including radiology, rehab, X-ray, laboratory and physical and respiratory therapy services.
John Hales, hospital administrator, said inpatient services will be phased out within the next two to three months.
"For a long time, the inpatient census at the hospital has been slowing down and ... deteriorating," he said.
Most of the hospital's business is being generated through its emergency room and other departments, Hales said.
"We've got somewhere around 900 patients a month that come to our emergency room, and those patients obviously receive X-ray and radiology procedures as part of their treatment and diagnosis, along with laboratory and sometimes respiratory therapy services and that sort of thing," he said.
Dr. Dannette McAlhaney, hospital board chairperson, said the goal is to provide the highest level of care for the community for the longest length of time. The hospital has seen a decline in its inpatient census as compared to the higher population of patients needing ER and outpatient services, she said.
"We feel if we could focus on that, we could provide the best services for the citizens of Bamberg County. We're still open for business. Our ER is not changing. We still have a complete lab, X-ray and respiratory services, rehab and physical therapy and outpatient therapy services," McAlhaney said.
Hales said the move will significantly cut the facility's expenses.
"Whether we have one patient or 100 patients, it still takes a certain amount of staff to do the work, certain nurses and other staff," Hales added. "That's seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's a lot of expense that we absorb to try to take care of a very small population."
Hales said no employees have been laid off in the restructuring process -- yet, noting the majority of staff had already found jobs elsewhere or positioned themselves for retirement.
"We anticipate there will probably be some reduction in staff," he said. " ... over a period of time, people on their own had decided that the best thing for them was to seek employment elsewhere. ... The feeling is it's not gonna be much hurt among a lot of people regarding reduction in force."
The hospital currently employs between 58 to 62 people, he said, adding he's not sure how much the staff will be reduced through restructuring.
The end of inpatient services will not be immediate but will definitely happen within the next two to three months, Hales said.
"We have to comply with proper notice procedures and work with DHEC and that type of thing. We're in the process of doing that now, and we'll wind it down with DHEC's approval," he said.
Patients needing inpatient services will be transferred to other facilities, he said.
"We transfer a lot now ... if it's a more complex case that needs the services of a larger medical center," he said. " ... we're probably going to transfer to our sister facility in Barnwell as long as they can take care of the patient."
Barnwell and Bamberg counties have teamed up to develop a regional health care system, including construction of a regional hospital.
But Hales said the restructuring does not mean Bamberg County Hospital is closing.
"The major portion of our business is open for the public, including our outpatient services and the emergency room. We'll actually be better off for it, and it'll be a good thing for (our) patients also," he said.
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