Mississippi bill could bring freestanding emergency rooms to Chickasaw County and other rural areas

HOUSTON, Miss. (WCBI) – Wednesday, the Mississippi State Senate followed the House passed a bill that would create freestanding emergency rooms in rural counties that do not have one.

Chickasaw County is one them.

“In a life or death situation, you have your Golden Hour they taught us that that person needs to get to critical care,” Chickasaw County EMA Director Linda Griffin says.

“Basically, they have one hour from the onset of illness or injury to get in front of a doctor,” says Houston Fire Chief Jonathan Blankenship.

In Chickasaw County, it could take half of that time or more just to get the patient to an emergency room.

“We are 20 to 30 minutes away from an ER just right here in Houston,” Chief Blankenship says. “Spread out in some of the farther directions in Chickasaw County, that could put that out to 45 minutes.”

Chickasaw County has not had an emergency room since Trace Regional Medical Center closed theirs in 2014.

“There was a lot of anxiety from people knowing that they didn’t have that emergency room, whether they needed it or not,” Griffin says.

Which is why Griffin was so excited to hear that the Mississippi state legislature approved a bill that could bring an emergency room to them and other underserved rural areas.

“It literally does mean the difference in life or death having that type of care within your county,” she says.

SB 2735 would launch a pilot program to build freestanding emergency rooms that would not have to be attached to a hospital.

“The delay in getting the patient to a physician and then also losing that ambulance for such an extended period of time, that’s what’s holding us back in Chickasaw County,” Chief Blankenship says. “That’s why a freestanding ER would be so big for us.”

The entire county has just two ambulances to serve close to 18,000 residents spread out over 500 square miles.

“People don’t realize how a community suffers without an emergency room,” Chief Blankenship says.

The bill limits the first wave of freestanding emergency rooms to five across the state, with the possibility of more, depending on their success.

If Governor Tate Reeves signs off, it would go into effect in July.

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