Volunteer firefighters: Residents are dying without hospital in Pickens County

Volunteer firefighters and first responders around Pickens County say patients in need are being left without an ambulance or emergency medical care — sometimes until it’s too late.

The Pickens County Medical Center in Carrollton closed in 2020, leaving the county without any emergency room or critical care capacity. That means if someone living in Pickens County has, say, a heart attack, the nearest hospitals are DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa — 50 miles away, or Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus, Mississippi — 30 miles away.

And that’s if an ambulance is available right then and there. But that’s often far from the case, as there are few operating in Pickens County.

That’s exactly what happened over the weekend, as a 40-year-old woman from Gordo died far from a hospital because no ambulance was available.

This death comes less than two weeks after another woman died a few feet from Carrollton City Hall after what first responders say was likely a heart attack.

On Monday, members of the Gordo Volunteer Fire Department held their regular weekly meeting. Among the topics up for discussion? Getting a hospital back into Pickens County.

It’s not the first time a Pickens County group has brought up how necessary a hospital is and how much it’s needed, as leaders from around the county have traveled to Montgomery and requested funding for reopening the hospital at least once since it closed.

“(The hospital has) been gone for several years and it was a real good asset to us in Pickens County,” said Gordo Volunteer Fire Chief Sam Powell. “We are running 25 to 35 calls per month here in Gordo and a lot of the times we don’t have an ambulance. We have to sit out anywhere from 30 minutes, maybe to two hours for an ambulance to come to us.”

Gordo District 1 City Council Member Jerome Duff said these deaths could have been prevented.

“Our fire department went up there and did what they could, but if we would have had an ambulance service here it probably would have been a better outcome,” Duff said. “We really need a our hospital back in Carrollton.”

Gordo Assistant Fire Chief Duane Porter said the solution is an obvious one, despite the potential cost.

“If we had the hospital back open that would cut down on their transportation time to Mississippi or to Tuscaloosa,” Porter said. “If we had a cardiac call here in Gordo or any other department in the county, it’ll be a lot quicker response from the ambulance services if they were staying in the county,” said Porter.

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