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 Sandhill ConNEXTion.
Almost a year after McLeod Health had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an emergency department at McLeod Health Cheraw, the hospital continues to celebrate a new day for health care across the region.
The opening of the emergency department was greeted with deserved fanfare, but it is only one part of the medical center’s plan to deliver the most advanced and comprehensive care possible.
“We’ve had a heightened presence,” says Matt Reich, McLeod Health’s chief information officer and senior vice president. “I feel like we’ve brought a great deal of technology and specialization to the area.”
The new 23-bed emergency department is designed to serve 25,000 patients annually, compared to the 8,000-10,000 patients the former department was meant to serve. In 2016 alone, the older department cared for nearly 22,000 patients, far exceeding its capacity.
“A large percentage of our hospital admissions arrive through the emergency department,” says Mib Scoggins, administrator for McLeod Health Cheraw. “This is their first impression of our efficiency, quality and service. The new emergency department accommodates the health care demands of our growing population and provides access to quality health care when emergency services are needed.”
In addition to the expansion, which added nearly 7,700 square feet to the emergency department, the facility also includes designated trauma patient rooms, covered drop-off areas for patients at the front entrance, enhanced patient waiting areas, and updated equipment and technology.
“At McLeod Health Cheraw, we care for our neighbors and friends, as well as those travelers passing through our area who experience a traumatic event,” Scoggins says. “The emergency department expansion is just the first step in our promise to offer quality medical care to each of our communities.”
Along with the improvements to the emergency department, McLeod Health Cheraw has made strides throughout the hospital in telemedicine and the use of other technologies to help with diagnoses and treatments.
A new century
McLeod Health Cheraw began serving the community as Chesterfield General Hospital in 1958, when party lines were the norm and some of the technologies now available to patients were little more than science fiction.
The medical center launched its telemedicine department in 2016, and it has grown with the emergency department expansion.
But a common theme runs throughout the medical center. “It all revolves around access to care,” says Reich, who came to McLeod Health in 2010 and oversees the hospital’s telemedicine program. “Is that access readily available?”
Advancements in technology — such as the telemedicine department, which allows patients remote access to specialists and other physicians — have improved access.
With high-speed data available in rural areas, specialists can quickly receive complete patient records while also being able to “sit in” an exam room via the internet.
“We have over 20 telemedicine programs that are either in development or live,” Reich says. “It allows us to have more specialized care available in the rural setting. The patients are getting proper care in a timely manner.
“If I come into the emergency department exhibiting signs of a stroke, utilizing a program such as TeleStroke I’m able to get the specialist I need — a structural neurologist — engaged in my care quickly, and in the case of a stroke, a matter of minutes can be a matter of life or death.”
Cardiologists, pulmonologists and other specialists can also be called in to improve inpatient care through McLeod Health Cheraw’s telemedicine programs.
“It’s more than just a doctor talking to another doctor on the phone,” Reich says. “It allows a physician to interact with the patient. They can see, and they can use peripherals to be able to take a closer examination. Then, by having that electronic health record available, they can see the test results, the doctor’s notes and the nurse’s notes. They have all that data.”
The expanded emergency and telemedicine departments at McLeod Health Cheraw are two pieces to the same puzzle, one that has often perplexed and frustrated medically underserved, rural communities.
“McLeod Health is committed to being a place where caring is a moment-by-moment action and where people are treated with respect and dignity,” says McLeod Health CEO and President Rob Colones. “We strive to provide excellent quality care in our region and to improve health care to those we serve.”
Investments in those departments are designed to keep patients at home in their community hospital, closer to their local doctors and closer to their families.
“When people come into the hospital, they expect to get great care. Sometimes in a rural setting they can’t get the care they need, so they have to travel,” Reich says. “That can become a real challenge for the patients and their families, who are often there for support and as their advocates. The closer we can keep the patients to home, the better off they are.”