DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) – Walton County Fire Rescue paramedics have had to make quite the adjustment over the past couple of months.

Healthmark Regional Medical Center’s emergency room closed in March for a 2-to-4 week renovation project.

That was more than 2 months ago and it still hasn’t reopened.

The closure of the ER has forced paramedics to have to transfer patients further away.

“If I take a patient from Walton County to a hospital, it has to be outside the jurisdiction,” Walton County Fire Rescue EMS Chief Tracey Vause said. “That could be as far to the east as Bay County or to the west as Ft. Walton Medical Center or even further in some cases.”

Vause said transport times are up 15% across the board.

It’s also created a backlog in 9-1-1 calls.

“This has caused us to have to hold 9-1-1 calls here since the hospital has closed,” Vause said. “Some have actually gone into a waiting queue in order for us to get resources available to come back from out of town to take those calls.”

Fire Rescue brought an additional ambulance online early to help combat the longer transport times.

Their community paramedic program has also helped to mitigate some of these issues.

“It’s a paramedic who responds in the community in a smaller vehicle, not an ambulance to lower acuity calls or to essentially someone who is already known in the system and they don’t need emergency care but they need follow up care,” Vause said.

Walton County Fire Rescue officials said they are considering the addition of another ambulance to be used on an as-needed basis.