Some Horry County EMS patients could lose hospital choice

Non-critical patients could soon lose the choice of which Horry County hospital paramedics take them to after an injury or illness.

The change would not impact critical-care patients as paramedics already chose the nearest hospital for treatment.

Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Tanner discussed the proposal during the Horry County Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday. Any change needs to be presented to the state's Medical Control agency and discussed with local hospitals, so no switch is imminent.

Under the current plan, a patient with a non-critical injury, such as a sprained ankle, chooses which hospital paramedics take them for treatment. That choice could be hours from where the injury occurred.

"By doing that, we have a lot transport time," Tanner said.

For example, a patient with a twisted ankle in Surfside Beach could request to be transported to a hospital in Loris. As a result, that ambulance is removed from its district, which can impact response times for other patients.

"It causes a ripple effect," said Mark Nugent, public information officer with Horry County Fire Rescue.

Under the proposal, paramedics would take the non-critical patient to the nearest facility that provides care. That will allow ambulances to remain in their district most of the time, Tanner said.

Nugent said he doesn't expect the change to be met with heavy opposition and part of their effort will be to communicate with locals about the proposal. Paramedics still will work with patients on a case-by-case basis for care, he added.

"I don't see it causing a huge issue," Nugent said.

Critical patients, such as those suffering from a cardiac event, already are taken to the nearest hospital that provides the appropriate care. The current policy also calls for paramedics during heavily populated or large-scale events to decide which hospital to send a patient no matter their injury.

Tanner said the idea for the change came from local paramedics. The Public Safety Committee informally gave approval to the proposal.