MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – With Madera Community Hospital’s (MCH) emergency room set to close Friday at midnight, followed soon by the hospital’s remaining services, the Madera County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting Thursday to figure out what will happen next.

Various first responders were at the meeting to highlight the negative impact the closure of Madera’s only hospital is going to have on their services to the community.

Daniel Lynch, EMS Director for Madera County, said the closure will impact ambulances. On average, Lynch said ambulances transfer 13-14 patients a day – who will now need to be transported to hospitals in Fresno or Merced. This means that, while they are busy taking a patient to the nearest hospital, areas would potentially be left without an ambulance to respond quickly in case of another emergency.

Lynch says that this will then impact the fire department, as they will have to stay on a scene until an ambulance is able to arrive – keeping those crews away from their primary duties. He says a temporary plan is in place between Pistoresi Ambulance, Oakhurst EMS, and American Ambulance to try and make sure someone is available for an emergency as quickly as possible.

Another issue is the transportation of “5150 patients.” According to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, an adult who is experiencing a mental health crisis can be involuntarily detained for 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization when evaluated to be a danger to others, to himself or herself, or gravely disabled. Deputies say ambulances usually handle the transportation of 5150 patients to Madera Community Hospital – but with the high possibility of ambulances not being available, that duty could fall to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Madera County Sheriff’s Office says that would be a huge impact on their deputies as estimates suggest each case is about a two-hour round trip and at least a 45-minute processing time at the hospital, impacting call times as officers will be busy transporting patients. Official figures show that in 2022, there were 271 5150 reports.

Another major concern shared by law enforcement is that closing the hospital will potentially cause a decrease in reported cases of domestic violence, child abuse, rape, and other sexual assault crimes. Hospitals are often seen by victims as safe places, due to the fact that nurses and doctors are mandated reporters. If they suspect a crime has been committed during their examination, they are required by law to report it, taking the burden out of the victim’s hands.

Even if these victims make it to surrounding hospitals, officials with the Madera Police Department are worried about the potential service they would receive from law enforcement. Their service would be impacted by their availability and calls for service. While the local law enforcement agency could write a courtesy report for them, it would still need to make it to detectives who would respond accordingly. This process could be delayed and could affect their investigation after the hospital closes.

Officials with the Madera County Department of Corrections say their department would be impacted too, as arrested individuals sometimes need to go to the hospital for a pre-booking checkout and stabilization. At MCH this could take anywhere from one to four hours. They estimate that having to take them to Fresno, could potentially take four to eight hours to complete.

While the jail does have a medical staff, at times the patient’s ailments exceed their abilities so they are sent to MCH. This year 75 inmates were sent to the Madera hospital. When this occurs their policy states that two correctional officers must accompany the inmate to the hospital.

Brian Esteves, Assistant Chief for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office says some possible solutions are offering more overtime – as well as the possibility of contracting security companies.

A representative for the Central California Woman’s Facility Prison said that they sent an average of 50 patients a month to MCH. There they had a medical guarded unit with custody staff officers to watch over their patients. Without MCH being available, now they have to take their patients to a hospital in Fresno. If that is not an option, they will have to take them to Doctors Medicals Center, which is 63 miles from their facility in Modesto.

One potential solution offered by deputies is to establish a transportation unit that is made up of deputies and correctional officers – which would cost an estimated $1.8 million annually.

In what is a serious situation, leadership from first responder agencies stepped up to not only offer the problems that they will have ahead of them but also what potential temporary solutions to try and continue to serve Madera County in the best form possible.