By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

 HOUSTON COUNTY – While the future of Timberlands Healthcare looks bleak, emergency medical services (EMS) providers have indicated they will continue to serve Houston County during times of crisis, regardless of the hospital situation.

After the news of Little River Healthcare (LRH) ending its affiliation with Timberlands Healthcare came to light last week, one of the many questions voiced by Houston County residents concerned what would happen in the event of an emergency.

Until this Friday, June 30, LRH will be the managing organization for Timberlands Healthcare in Crockett. What will happen after that date, however, is still unknown.

Leslie Coleman, the Public Relations Coordinator for Lifeguard Ambulance Service, which operates Houston County EMS, said the company was aware of the situation with Timberlands and LRH.

“We know just as much as the community does right now. We understand there is a lot of uncertainty, but we plan to stay in close contact with the county. We remain committed to serving the citizens of Houston County, during this time,” she said.

“If a replacement does not come in, under our medical protocols and under the guidance of our medical director, we will transport patients to whatever is the closest, most appropriate facility,” Coleman said.

She said the decision of where to transport a patient in need of emergency care would be based on the condition of the patient, the initial diagnosis and where the patient is located within the county.

Coleman explained if a patient was in Grapeland, more than likely, the transport would be to Palestine or if a patient was in Kennard, the transport would likely go to Lufkin.

“We learned about this (the Timberlands – LRH split) at the same time everyone else did,” she added.

The air ambulance service, Houston County Air Rescue, was also contacted about their status in relation to the likely closure of Timberlands.

“Houston County Air Rescue is completely independent from the hospital,” Air Evac Lifeteam PR Manager Shelly Schneider explained.

“We will remain where we are. Our lease, as far as the property is concerned, is with the (Houston County) hospital district. We will be there,” she said.

“Transportation will not change,” Schneider added. “I don’t know how many patients we brought back to Timberlands, but we will continue to take patients to the closest, appropriate facility. Depending on if it was a stroke, heart condition or trauma, we will take them to the closest, appropriate facility.”

Houston County Emergency Coordinator and Grapeland Fire Chief Roger Dickey said Grapeland EMS will also continue to operate as it currently is.

“We’re pretty blessed here. We could go to Palestine just as easy as going to Crockett. It was usually the patient’s preference. If it was critical, we would go to Crockett, but it’s not but five or six miles farther to Palestine, depending on where you are,” Dickey said.

“As far as we go, we’re not going to be hampered. We still have the Palestine route,” he said.

Following a Houston County Commissioners Court meeting held on Tuesday, June 27, County Judge Jim Lovell was asked if the county had formulated any plans in regard to the hospital.

“Right now we don

’t have anything planned. We will have to see what happens at the HCHD meeting tonight. Everything is riding on them. There is nothing encouraging, unless something comes out of that meeting,” he said.

“I don’t think we will see them (the HCHD) take on the (hospital operations),” Lovell said. “They ran it for a little while before LRH got here, but it may have depleted their financial reserves. I haven’t seen their finances. Some questions will probably be answered tonight, I hope.”

“We have to have emergency services here. We haven’t even addressed that (the hospital) at this time. I’m not sure we’re going to do, until we see what happens when the axe finally drops. Lifeguard has assured us they will be here. They are not going anywhere,” Lovell said.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.