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 PRTC Connection.
Leaders at Colleton Medical Center have invested in technology and improvements to help the hospital serve the residents of the Lowcountry for generations to come.
As the region’s population grows, Colleton Medical Center is a community hospital with a large reach and a larger responsibility. “We want to give the people here in Walterboro and across the region the ability to stay closer to home for their medical care,” says Colleton Medical Center CEO Jimmy Hiott.
Just about every facet of the hospital has been affected by the series of improvement projects and renovations that keep the medical center moving forward in the ever-changing and challenging world of 21st-century medicine.
Hiott says the hospital’s parent company, Hospital Corporation of America, has spent about $18.5 million on improvements and additional technology at the medical center the past five years.
Upgrades to the 37-year-old building have included a $4.5 million renovation to the emergency room as well as a renovation in 2015 of the intensive care unit.
Other improvements come in the form of high-tech medical equipment, such as the new robotic da Vinci Surgical System designed to help surgeons operate more precisely and patients to recover faster.
“The biggest thing it means to the patient is that recovery time is almost cut in half,” Hiott says of the surgical system. “There’s less trauma on the body, so there’s less swelling or bruising, and the patient recovers faster.”
In addition to the da Vinci system, the hospital now has 3D digital mammogram capabilities, the standard of care in the industry. Having this technology in Colleton County prevents residents from having to travel.
Colleton Medical Center also added telemedicine, which expands access to some specialists such as neurologists. For instance, stroke victims are able to get an immediate consultation from a neurologist via an internet videoconference. “A neurologist can talk face to face with the patients and their families,” Hiott says. “They’re in the room with them.”
Colleton Medical Center also uses telemedicine as part of treatment in behavioral health and the ICU. “It’s just a good way for smaller facilities like ours to gain access to some amazing specialists,” Hiott says. “When we need consults, we have the specialists at our fingertips through the telehealth option. We’ve contracted with excellent physicians’ groups. In a videoconference, you see the physician and are interacting back and forth just like you’re in the same room.”
Technology is backed by highly trained professionals. For example, in the Intensive Care Unit, an intensivist assists staff members on their daily rounds and routinely consults with attending physicians to determine the best courses of treatment for ICU patients.
In case of emergency
The renovation of the 20-bed emergency room is part of an effort that began more than three years ago, says Colleton Medical Center Facilities Manager Bruce Bennett.
It was one of several projects designed to improve medical care throughout the hospital. “The projects demonstrate that we’re dedicated to the care of our patients,” says Bennett, who has been part of the facilities staff for the past 23 years. “That’s part of our mission statement — dedication to the care and improvement of human life.”
Hiott says the emergency department’s patient volume has grown from 25,000 to 39,000 annually over the past seven years.
The emergency room update included a facelift inside and improvements to the ambulance bays. “We have a great medical director and new processes to go along with the new construction that we’re implementing to help facilitate the flow of patients,” Emergency Room Director Amy Riesner says.
Soon after renovations to the 3,500-square-foot ICU were completed in 2015, the attention of Bennett’s staff and hospital leadership turned to the building’s aging roof and HVAC system.
“We set it up with new, advanced equipment so we could properly control the cooling and heating environment,” Bennett says. “The old system was no longer energy-efficient and no longer able to meet the needs of the hospital. So we put together a great package to upgrade our systems.”
As if that project wasn’t big enough on its own, Bennett’s staff also tackled the work needed to add an emergency power system to ensure the entire hospital can remain operational during an extended power outage. “We have the ability to run our entire hospital on emergency generators for an extended period of time without bringing in any support whatsoever. That’s something really special for a small hospital like ours,” Bennett says.
‘Live your healthy’
Colleton Medical Center staff continues to reach out to the community, not only to treat the ailing but also to educate local residents on living healthier lifestyles.
A series of vignettes and hospital stories have recently launched on PRTC’s Channel 57. This program is designed to inform viewers on a variety of health- and hospital-related topics and to encourage them to live healthier.
“We want to be here when you’re sick and when you’re in need,” Hiott says. “We also want to provide options for education. For example: one topic is eating smarter. A Colleton Medical Center dietitian provides tips on how to incorporate a healthy diet into everyday life. We want to do more education, and we want to show people ways to live healthy lives.”