Residents worried about plans to close Deer Park Hospital next month picketed Providence Health Care on Saturday afternoon, but they faced waning odds that executives will change course.
“We know it’s hard, but it’s also very important,” said Sonja Horner, who worked as a nurse at the 24-bed hospital for 17 years.
The closure of the rural hospital has riled many in the Deer Park area. About 1,300 people have signed petitions asking the hospital to remain open.
Rob Nebergall has led the efforts. He accuses Providence of abandoning poor residents of Deer Park and communities such as Riverside and Chattaroy, Elk, Loon Lake, Valley and Springdale.
“As a Catholic and a resident, I care deeply about the poor and elderly in my community,” Nebergall said. “What Providence is doing makes no sense in accordance with their mission of caring for the sick and least fortunate among us.”
Providence disputes the criticisms. Deer Park Hospital had averaged about one patient a day since local doctors began referring nearly every patient to Spokane for treatment, particularly Holy Family Hospital 18 miles away.
Local doctors run the Deer Park Family Clinic and recently opened an urgent care clinic to treat non-life threatening emergencies.
Also, a new Community Health Association of Spokane clinic has opened in Deer Park, noted Sharon Fairchild, a Providence vice president.
Providence is launching an education campaign to remind residents that the hospital will close in March and that they should call 911 for emergency needs rather than trying to speed to Holy Family Hospital.
“People will still have access to excellent care,” Fairchild said.
She said physicians are most comfortable sending patients to Spokane’s larger hospitals where medical specialists can better diagnose problems and give expert care.
It’s a trend that undermines the financial stability of Deer Park Hospital, even though Providence officials have said that’s not the pressing motivation for closure.
Hoisting a placard against the closure, Bill Oxley, of Diamond Lake, called the decision by Providence a ploy that “puts profits before people” and ups the risks for rural residents who have come to rely on driving to Deer Park Hospital’s emergency room rather than awaiting ambulance crews.
He talked of chain saw wounds and other injuries that happen in the woods and areas where it may be more prudent to just “get to a doctor quick.”
Oxley credits the small hospital with saving his life, recalling when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to penicillin and was driven to its emergency room.
“The 20 extra minutes it may have taken me to get to Spokane might have been too long,” he said. “I’m lucky the hospital was there. For those of us who live out in the country, it’s awfully important.”
And those numbers are swelling, said Horner, the former nurse, who noted the rapid housing growth in the area.
Fairchild acknowledged the concerns in an interview last week but said people should always call for an ambulance in case of an emergency.
The needs of hospital patients have grown more serious, she said. They are older, sicker and suffering from complications that often require care from specialists unavailable at Deer Park.
Nebergall said Deer Park Hospital would remain viable if local doctors would admit non-acute patients rather than send them to Holy Family along with the most serious cases.
“Once we lose our hospital, we’ll never get it back,” Nebergall said. “And that would be just terrible for everyone.”
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