"We can still evaluate and begin resuscitation on a patient," Dr. John Lewis said of the medical center. "If a patient comes in and they're unstable, we have all the equipment to begin stabilization of that patient and their treatment ... from the standpoint of a lay person, there is no significant change."
MARCO ISLAND — The removal of some equipment at Marco Island Medical Center prompted Collier EMS officials to tell staff this week to treat the center like a walk-in clinic or doctor's office, but doctors said the effect of the change in the clinic's operation is minimal.
John Lewis, a doctor and chairman of the NCH Healthcare System's Department of Emergency Medicine, said a small amount of intubation equipment, which is used to stabilize a patient's airway, was removed from the center after a comparison study of the hospital's other medical centers showed it was the only center with the equipment.
"We can still evaluate and begin resuscitation on a patient," Lewis said of the medical center. "If a patient comes in and they're unstable, we have all the equipment to begin stabilization of that patient and their treatment ... from the standpoint of a lay person, there is no significant change."
Walter Kopka, interim chief for Collier County EMS, told his staff this week in an email to treat the medical center like a family practice or walk-in doctor's office based on Lewis' recommendation.
"It's probably best to respond to calls with lights and sirens now," Kopka said in an interview. "That way we're treating them like a doctor's office that doesn't have resuscitation equipment."
John Torre, spokesman for Collier County government, said the equipment removal will only affect the county's EMS service on the island "to the extent that EMS, when responding to the facility now, will run lights and sirens no matter what the nature of the call."
Robert Tober, medical director for Collier County and who wasn't involved in the decision to remove the equipment from the center, said the changes likely represent a bigger push to clarify services.
"I think what they're really attempting to do is define to that community that it's not a hospital or emergency room: it's a clinic, a doctor's office and the people should be inclined to call 911 in an emergency," he said.
In October, an island resident died after waiting for transport from the medical center to downtown Naples Community Hospital. That lingering fear and misconception as to the center's function is reason to reinforce what officials said they've always preached on Marco Island: In the event of an emergency, call 911 — don't drive yourself to a hospital or the medical center.
The message is part of a campaign that began about three years ago in conjunction with the hospital, Marco Island Fire Chief Mike Murphy said.
"It started because we do see a lot of people having an acute emergency and going to the clinic across the street and they have to be retransported," he said. "Time is muscle in heart attacks. All the time during the process could cause damage to their heart muscle and could be fatal."
As part of an educational campaign, Murphy said, 1,000 more bumper stickers will be printed and passed out to residents. When it started, there were videos on the city's website promoting the message.
In October, the hospital announced it no longer would provide EMS services to the island following Paul Anderson's death. The 80-year-old Marco resident died a day after he waited 54 minutes for an ambulance to take him from the medical center to the hospital.
Jerry Gibson, chairman for the Marco Island City Council, said island residents didn't feel safe after that occurred.
In November, the Marco Island City Council asked Murphy to continue looking into the possibility of partnering with the Naples fire department to provide EMS care to island residents.
Marco Island sends EMS personnel on its fire engines to respond to emergency medical calls, and Murphy said protocol for his staff won't change after equipment was removed from the medical center.
"If it's a cardiac call, we take the necessary cardiac equipment into the facility," he said. "If it's a trauma call, we take trauma bags. We still take the same equipment because we don't make any assumptions that anything is going to be done."
Gibson has lived in the city for more than 25 years and said he always thought he should first go to the medical center in emergencies. Once, rather than calling for an ambulance when he was experiencing indigestion, he instead casually drove to the fire station to consult workers there.
"I didn't want to be embarrassed having an ambulance at my house. People have to fight themselves to not be ashamed or fearful to call 911," he said. "If it is indigestion, God bless you, they'll be the first to tell you don't worry about it. It's something we really have to educate people to overcome."