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Ask Us: Why is Rowan EMS no longer transporting some patients outside of county?

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

When Rowan County Emergency Medical Services responded to calls of a medical emergency in the past, the standard procedure was to take patients to the nearest appropriate medical facility or where the person requested to go.

That’s why several readers asked why they were denied transport to hospitals outside of Rowan County, even though those hospitals were closer to their homes. The reason why that policy has changed, Rowan EMS Chief Allen Cress said, is COVID-19.

In an effort to protect paramedics, Cress said that staff almost exclusively transports patients to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center so Rowan Emergency Services can track whether or not the patient is COVID-19 positive.

Although hospitals share patient records, Cress said that it’s harder to conduct contract tracing when someone leaves the county.

“The reason for that is we can track them as far as their COVID process if they test positive,” Cress said. “It protects our people too because we have a way to contract trace them that way. If they go outside of Rowan when that happens, we don’t have any way to track them.”

There are exceptions to the policy. 

If the matter is life threatening, Cress said that the patient will be taken to the closest possible hospital, even if it is outside of the county. Also if a patient calls for an ambulance about a medical issue for which they have been seeing a health care professional outside of the county, Rowan EMS will take them to that facility.

“If their doctor is in Cabarrus County and they’ve been treated for whatever is wrong with them that they’re calling 9-1-1 today, and they’re affiliated with Atrium for that particular reason, no problem we’ll take them there,” Cress said.

If someone has an issue that can be treated at virtually any health care facility, Rowan County first responders will transport that person to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. That’s true even if the person lives on the southwestern edge of the county and is closer to Lake Norman Regional Medical Center.

However, if someone is dealing with gastrointestinal problems that they’re seeing a doctor at a hospital outside of the county for, they’ll be transported to that facility, Cress said.

Rowan County ambulances have taken patients outside of the county many times during the pandemic, EMS Division Chief Lenny Cooper said. They’ve transported patients to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Emergency Medical Services has received several inquiries about the policy, Cress said.

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