Most people expect that when an emergency or illness strikes, an ambulance will be available to get them to needed treatment fast.

That’s not always the case in Morton, said Pam Logalbo, Arbor Health Morton Hospital nurse. 

Patients in Morton sometimes wait anywhere from five to 32 hours for a transport from the East County hospital because the community relies solely on private ambulance companies for this service. 

“When you live out in the boonies, it’s not something you realize until someone gets sick,” Logalbo said.

But a new agreement aims to alleviate this pressure. And an upcoming fundraiser for the Arbor Health Morton Hospital Foundation will give the community a chance to be part of this potentially life-saving change. Funding for needed equipment to facilitate an agreement with Adventure Medics to service Arbor Health Morton Hospital will be among the items benefitting from the third annual Corks ‘n Caps fund-raiser, which will be held July 20 at the Packwood Community Hall. 

Starting as early as September, Adventure Medics will be providing a dedicated ambulance service to Arbor Health Morton Hospital and its clinics. Adventure Medics is a private company based in Bend, Oregon, that specializes primarily in providing medics for special events ranging from festivals to sporting events. Last year, Adventure Medics personnel were present at more than 160 events in Oregon. In January, company leadership decided they wanted to begin offering their services in Washington, explained Matt Jones, Washington Manager for Adventure Medics. Washington State requires licensed ambulance companies to be operating continually, so the company began looking for a community with a critical access hospital where ambulance service was sorely needed. 

Arbor Health Morton Hospital does not have its own ambulances and Lewis County Fire District 4, which serves Morton, does not have the staffing available to provide ambulance transport services. So the community relies on private ambulance companies, the closest of which is 35 miles away, for patient transport. Airlifting patients is sometimes possible, but only in good weather, and securing a medical transport is not always as easy as picking up the phone and calling. Sometimes ambulance companies cannot spare a rig, especially if it needs to drive an hour or more away from their base. This is coupled with rising transportation needs, Logalbo said. It used to be that in a busy month, the hospital would need to transport about 10 to 15 patients, now it’s 30 to 40, and those numbers seem to be rising each year with a growing and aging population. 

Logalbo said Arbor Health Morton Hospital had considered founding its own ambulance service but found the cost and licensing requirements to be too onerous.

“They fell out of the sky like angels,” Logalbo said of Adventure Medics. “It was the perfect timing. I was about to give up because it looked like it was futile.”

Logalbo explained that one of the more difficult current situations at the hospital is trauma victims, such as car crash victims from nearby U.S. Highway 12. At times, the Morton emergency room has only one doctor, one nurse and one tech on duty. The hospital lacks specialists such as neurosurgeons, so they must stabilize the patients and then transport them to facilities with these specialists.

“We see all the same things that they see everywhere else but we’re far away from everywhere they can do the specialized stuff,” Logalbo said.

“The hospital and ER staff, I can’t laud them enough the way they hang on to these patients,” Jones added.

The lack of a dedicated ambulance service also hurts patients who are stable but medically fragile and need transport to different kinds of treatments and therapies. These patients need to be transported in an environment where they have needed machinery, such as oxygen support, but often find it hard to secure a ride.

“Sometimes people go without care because there’s no way to get them there,” Jones said.

Adventure Medics will be considered a vendor with a contract to provide services solely to Arbor Health Morton Hospital as well as its clinics in Mossyrock and Randle. The service will run out of a station in Onalaska as well as a station located directly next door to the Morton hospital Emergency Room entrance. Jones said the Morton facility will take the average wait for a transport from over one hour to about 10 minutes. And because Adventure Medics staff are licensed for critical care, hospital staff will not need to ride along with the most fragile patients.

“It will alleviate the entire domino effect. The hospital stays 100 percent staffed and we just take the patient,” Jones said. “Time can be the difference between quality of life or quantity of life or not.”

Before beginning any work in Morton, Jones explained, Adventure medics made contact with local fire departments and districts to get permission to offer their services. Jones said given the resources available to them, local first responders and doctors have done and are doing an amazing job providing patients life-saving services. 

Jones said first and foremost he wants to make sure that everyone understands his job is to help, not to hurt or condemn. 

“We don’t want to affect anyone’s tax base or levy,” Jones said. “They’ve been doing it for years and doing it right.”

The hope is to have the Adventure Medics Onalaska base operational within the next several weeks and then Morton hopes to be operational by Sept. 1 pending licensing and equipment requirements. 

Logalbo said it is hoped that eventually Adventure Medics may help the hospital start a community paramedic program, which would allow community volunteers to be trained to visit people in their homes and provide non-life-saving services such as wellness-checks, home safety checks. blood pressure checks and immunizations. 

“The staff in the ER and the hospital work tirelessly, sometimes for hours, to get a bed for someone or transport,” Logalbo said. “Now, we have a relief valve with this agreement.”

Like the planned ambulance services, this would provide a much needed pressure relief valve for doctors and first responders.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t have phones or don’t answer their phones and they forget check-ins,” Logalbo explained. “If the doctors don’t hear from them, they have to send a police officer to check on them.”

Now in its third year, Corks ‘n Caps is a fundraiser for the Arbor Health Morton Hospital Foundation. When purchasing their tickets, attendees will choose a dinner of small plates catered by Ramblin’ Jack’s Rib Eye Restaurant will be paired with either beers from Dick’s Brewery in Centralia or wines from Bateaux Cellars Winery in Toledo. Money raised at the event support scholarships for hospital employees as well as needed medical equipment for the hospital and its clinics. Purchasing the equipment necessary for the Adventure Medics ambulance to begin serving the Morton hospital will be the focus of this year’s fund-an-item portion of the fundraiser.

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