Editor’s note: National Rural Health Day is Nov. 21, 2019. Throughout the month, we are sharing stories to highlight the challenges and good work being done to improve health care in rural America. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of the HTC Highlander.
When Life Care Center of Morgan County in Wartburg opened its doors back in 1980, it offered local families a place to visit their sick loved ones without a long drive to another county. Now, 38 years later, the rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility offers even more services with more treatment options and cutting-edge health care.
“We are probably the definition of a country setting,” says Donald Tyndall, executive director of Life Care Center of Morgan County. “We don’t have a hospital in the community, and we are the only long-term care facility in the county. So we serve our community, and we have a strong reputation for our therapy.”
Expanding Care, Expanding Reach
The center is part of Life Care Centers of America, a national company that got its start in Cleveland, Tennessee. It offers everything from inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation to secure units for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
“We took one section of our building and made it into a short-term rehabilitation setting for things like joint replacement therapy and therapy for stroke or stroke-like symptoms that are relatively mild in nature,” Tyndall says. “So, those patients are going to be here roughly 20 days. Our goal is to get them to the next level of care in their recovery.”
Patients generally come from Morgan County, but more and more counties are sending patients their way, Tyndall says. “We do have a presence from all the surrounding counties, too, because of our care,” he says.
With 104 employees — 74 of them full-time — the facility is also one of the top employers in the county. The company employs about eight therapists for outpatient care alone. “We have expanded our therapy services,” Tyndall says. “If you think about it, just 10 years ago very few therapy departments worked more than five days a week. But about 12 years ago, we took ours to about seven days a week for physical therapy and occupational therapy both.”
When patients come in on a Friday afternoon for rehabilitation, they can usually start treatment that weekend, Tyndall says. “We do weekend evaluations, so they don’t have to sit here until Monday morning before they get started,” he says. “On about any given month, we experience between 19 and 26 admissions and discharges. As of late November 2018, we’ve successfully discharged 125 people to home out of our rehab services. For our size and the population of this county, that’s huge. We have about 18,000 people in this county, so, as a ratio, that’s not too bad.”
Keeping The Community Strong
Tyndall says Life Care’s Wartburg facility depends on the high-speed gig internet service from Highland for both internal corporate communications and external communications from hospitals and physicians alike.
Gene Chastain, senior director of information technology with Life Care Centers of America, agrees, saying fast and reliable internet speeds are non-negotiable assets in health care organizations for a number of reasons.
“First, today’s clinical systems are hosted off-site and on the internet, making the need for reliable internet service critical,” Chastain says. “Second, the internet is vital for providing connectivity between health care providers, such as hospitals, physician’s offices, labs and pharmacies. Last, the internet has become more important to our residents, allowing them to stay connected to the outside world.”
And while super-fast gig internet speeds aren’t always available in smaller counties like Morgan, Highland made a commitment to make it work. “That goes right back to the company that Highland Telephone Cooperative is and the service they want to provide to the community,” Tyndall says. “It’s just the quality they deliver. They want to bring our community up to speed with the rest of the world and keep it there.”
Life Care Center of Morgan County
For more information on the center and its services, go to lifecarecenterofmorgancounty.com.
The website offers information on all the center’s services, facility news and support groups. The center is at 419 S. Kingston St., Wartburg. You can reach them by phone at 423-346-6691.