DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) — DeFuniak Springs residents are still traveling long distances to get to the nearest hospital.
Healthmark Regional Medical Center closed in March and there are still no answers about its future.
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue are working hard take fill the void.
The hospital announced in March they were closing the doors to their emergency room for renovations. It was supposed to take four weeks.
Six months later the entire hospital is still shut down.
It has forced first responders to expand services to provide emergency medical services.
“We have tried to really step up our ambulance service to the county. We put the seventh ambulance that we were already planning to into service to mitigate the number of transport times and to reduce the risk of citizens having an ambulance out of the county when they need it. We are really trying to do some smart management, best practices if you will, to mitigate the potential impact,” Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson said.
Walton County Fire Rescue has implemented the Community Paramedic Program which uses telemedicine to help treat some of their patients.
“The paramedicine program allows us to provide services to the most at need citizens that often call for an ambulance but a lot of times that can be mitigated by paramedics going to their home and providing service there,” Adkinson said.
The program helps free up ambulances needed for critical care.
Walton County Fire Rescue also received a $3.5 million grant to build a new fire station in Choctaw Beach.
Adkinson said they bought the property two years ago.
“We have been trying to build a new fire station at Choctaw Beach which was desperately needed, we provide services in a pretty unincorporated area that really needs a lot of services and that type of facility is going to make a huge difference,” Adkinson said.
Despite expanding services, Adkinson said it doesn’t replace the need for an emergency room.
“I think the Walton County Fire Rescue is obviously in the top of the state of Florida, the state has recognized that. Nothing mitigates that need for the emergency room. It is a critical need we must have somewhere to go,” Adkinson said.
News 13 reached out to Healthmark Regional Medical Center, but hospital officials refused to comment.