JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — As rural hospitals continue to face uncertain futures, CBS 42 is talking with leaders in one city that recently lost its facility.
It has been almost one year since Regional Medical Center Jacksonville closed its doors. Now, patients must be transported to a hospital in Gadsden or Anniston.
City leaders told CBS 42 they have noticed impacts that are likely to be experienced by other communities where hospitals may close.
“It’s been a real blow for us,” said Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith.
Smith thinks back to last year’s EF-3 tornado and wonders would happen if there was a disaster in the future.
Specifically, Smith said paramedics are out of service longer.
“Before we picked somebody up in Jacksonville and got them out to the Jacksonville hospital, 10 or 15 minutes and they would be back in service. Now we have to carry them to Gadsden Regional or Anniston Regional and we are 2, 3, sometimes 4 hours to get back in service,” said Smith.
Jacksonville isn’t alone in dealing with a hospital closure.
In March, Georgiana Medical Center in Butler County closed. The closing of RMC Jacksonville came after closures of North Alabama Regional Hospital in 2015. Florala Memorial Hospital and Elba General Hospital also closed in 2015.
“The discussions with RMC Anniston was pretty clear. They were losing money at the hospital and it is hard to argue that point,” said Mayor Smith.
While CBS 42 was in town, a Piedmont EMS rescue unit responded with the Jacksonville Fire Department to help a man in need of medical attention.
The city ambulance was tied up on another call. With crews often transporting patients to other cities, having back is critical.
“We are cross trained as fireman as well, so when you take an ambulence out of town you are also taking a couple of our firemen out of town so that effects us, that is really a concern,” said Randy Childs, Assistant Fire Chief with JFD.
Childs said hospitals in Anniston and Gadsden can be busier.
“Sometimes now we have longer wait times, at those hospitals as well, because there is more volume of patients going through there,” said Childs.
In a city that tries to recruit retirees and that is home to thousands of college students, Jacksonville can be tougher to sell without a hospital.
Mayor Smith continues to work to try and land a small emergency room, but said investors haven’t been able to make the numbers work so far.
For people who live in Jacksonville, you cannot put a price on health.
“The big concern is you worry about somebody having a stroke, having a heart attack, a bad car accident, whatever it may be, if it is a critical situation, it is that time,” said Smith.
RMC donated the building to Jacksonville State University. It is currently used as a student health center and to train nursing students.