As the Quad Cities try to cope with the loss of its hospital, health care professionals at Fulton County Hospital are dealing with a different problem -- an influx of Sharp County patients.
But Fulton County Hospital Administrator Frank Wise said it's a problem his hospital embraces.
"We've seen about a 40-percent increase in our patient load since Eastern Ozarks closed last month," Wise said. "We're more than capable of meeting Sharp County's needs at this time."
He said 19 of the hospital's 25 beds were occupied by patients Jan. 7. Five of the 19 patients were Sharp County residents.
Wise said he expects the hospital's patient load to remain steady through the winter.
"Most of our patients have come in with respiratory problems caused by the warm weather," Wise said. "We haven't seen any flu this year. When it gets cold I'm sure we will."
The Fulton County emergency room has seen the most significant surge in activity after the closure of Eastern Ozarks, Wise said.
"EMS (Emergency Medical Service) rules require an ambulance service to bring a patient to the nearest medical facility that is capable of handling their problem," Wise said. "Our ER has been seeing quite a few Spring River ambulances, especially at night."
Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service provides ambulance service in most of Sharp County.
Wise said several Sharp County physicians, including Dr. George Jackson, have been referring patients to Fulton County.
He said Dr. Surinder Sra, the former Eastern Ozarks chief of staff, has not referred any of his patients to the hospital.
Besides handing over a portion of its former patient load, Eastern Ozarks also gave Fulton County quantities of laboratory reagents and units of blood, free of charge.
Wise said the reagents and blood were worth approximately $1,000 and would have spoiled if Eastern Ozarks had not donated them.
He said Eastern Ozarks could not sell the medical supplies because it did not have a license to sell blood or reagents.
Despite Eastern Ozarks shutting its doors, one service provided by the hospital, cardiac rehab, is now available at Fulton County as well.
Cardiac-rehab specialist Trena Spears has moved her cardiac rehabilitation practice from Eastern Ozarks to Fulton County.
Spears said she had 11 patients at Eastern Ozarks before her services were discontinued Nov. 28. Currently, eight of the 11 patients are receiving treatment at Fulton County, she said.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a controlled exercise program for people who suffer from heart maladies which include coronary artery bypass, stable angina, coronary artery disease, stent treatment, and other specified forms of ischemic heart disease.
Spears said if Eastern Ozarks reopens or another hospital opens in Cherokee Village she would restart her Sharp County cardiac-rehab practice, at least on a part-time basis.
In the meantime, Spears said she worries about the Quad Cities residents who no longer have a hospital.
"That community needs its hospital," Spears said. "I've seen people in the emergency room who would not have made it another mile. The hospital saved their lives."