Amid the challenges that rural health care delivery faces across the nation, two leading Orangeburg County facilities have continued to put an emphasis on providing quality care with a focus on community outreach.
The Regional Medical Center and Family Health Centers Inc. serve the citizens of Orangeburg and surrounding counties with comprehensive services that provide holistic care.
'Our employees are first rate'
Owned by Orangeburg and Calhoun counties, RMC is governed by a 15-member board of trustees.
Bert Whitaker, interim CEO and president of RMC, said there is no question what makes the facility a top quality one.
"Our employees in my mind are first rate. They work hard, they're loyal, they're competent and I really think that our employees are the heart of the organization. I certainly would include the medical staff," Whitaker said.
"I think that Orangeburg and Calhoun counties are all fortunate to have the employee base and the physicians that we have. I really think that is the main reason that we're able to offer quality programs and that we're able to be successful and be here as long as we have," he said.
The hospital was founded in 1919 and will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Whitaker said the hospital's strong board also contributes to its success.
"We were fortunate that we have a board that is made up of community people. Their interest and focus is to serve the community," he said.
"The board wants us to provide a good service day to day at the hospital," Whitaker said. But serving the community goes beyond the RMC campus.
"It has to be through outreach programs like blood pressure clinics with the blood mobile that we have. We have a mammography unit that we travel with. I can go on and on about the programs, but the board has an expectation that we truly are community oriented," he said.
RMC spearheads, sponsors and partners with other community organizations to offer health screenings, prevention classes and educational forums. RMC's outreach professionals also strive to keep the community informed about the latest health news through a number of special events such as its Wellness Celebration/Safe Kids Super Saturday and car safety seat checks.
Outreach professionals also participate in community events such as the Orangeburg County Fair and numerous health-related walks. And RMC sponsors several support groups including cancer, amputee, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, weight loss, stroke and spinal cord injury support.
The RMC Employer Relations program provides health screenings, flu shots and health education on site at nearly 150 businesses, industries and schools in Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties.
RMC is also a founding partner of the Tri-County Health Network, which provides health education with the ongoing work of three subcommittees: chronic disease, health eating/active living and health ministries.
RMC has 120 physicians on the active medical staff representing a wide range of specialties, including arthritis and rheumatology, cardiology, behavioral health, cancer care, gastroenterology, nephrology, speech therapy, pediatrics, general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics/gynecology, cardiopulmonary rehab and internal medicine.
"We are always attempting to strengthen the services that we have, but we also are looking at the need for endocrinology. We have a new endocrinologist coming on board. It's really exciting. We're going to continue to look for a neurologist. We have another orthopedic surgeon joining us as we need to expand that as we move forward," Whitaker said.
"One of the things that we're trying to be cognizant of is that we can't be all things to all people. We just don't have the reimbursement or the population base to offer everything, but we can and do make every effort to offer the most comprehensive services that we can do."
Whitaker said he understands the challenges that rural hospitals have faced.
"During the last about 10 years or so, there have been 70 hospitals in communities like ours that have closed and we have not. We continue to serve the community and have a comprehensive list of services that we're providing. We're always looking to evaluate … what areas we need to improve."
A breast health center and vascular center are among the specialties that have been added.
The H. Filmore Mabry Center for Cancer Care, the Center for Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, HealthPlex and Home Health are just a few of the comprehensive services the hospital provides.
"Those are all very solid robust programs that are underway right now. We have right now a relationship with the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. We've had an affiliation with them for a couple of years and are looking at ways we might be able to share and develop programs together," Whitaker said, citing oncology as a possibility.
Kathy Rhoad, RMC interim vice president of strategy and compliance, said the hospital is successfully working with MUSC with a telemedicine program.
"The greatest success is the telestroke program. We were already a primary stroke center, but then we have added a benefit through our connection with MUSC, that if somebody comes in with stroke symptoms, they could be connected to a neurologist 24-7 at MUSC," Rhoad said.
The hospital has also explored being able to perform interventional cardiology, which includes the placement of stents to unclog blocked arteries.
"We have a very strong cardiology program here. Our cardiologists are always working to stay on top of the needs of the retired population and also our basic primary care to make certain that primary care is available to help patients monitor their daily lives," Whitaker said.
Health education is important for all, the interim president said.
"In our community and a lot of communities like ours, the whole issue of obesity, smoking, diabetes, exercise or lack of, all of those particular issues are really important in terms of ongoing education," Whitaker said. "So our board expects us to stay focused on developing and expanding those types of programs."
Whitaker said the hospital has also been a major economic player in the community.
"We work with the economic development folks also in terms of supporting recruiting efforts for new industry, additional industry and that sort of thing. We're always interested and very supportive.
"Economically, this hospital just in payroll pays out in excess of $100 million a year into the local economy. Economists say every dollar will turn over in the community two or three times, so you're talking about this hospital having in excess of a $400 million economic impact on Orangeburg and Calhoun counties," Whitaker said.
'We never turn a patient away'
Family Health Centers Inc. is one of the state's largest community health centers. It is overseen by a 16-member board and works to serve the medically underserved and uninsured in Orangeburg, Bamberg, Calhoun and upper Dorchester counties through seven comprehensive primary care sites.
The center was accredited by the Joint Commission in 1999, verifying it is in compliance with nationally recognized standards. It was the first primary care medical home in the state to be accredited by the Joint Commission.
FHC is part of the National Association of Community Health Centers Inc., which represents the nation's network of more than 1,000 federally qualified health centers serving more than 20 million people across its sites.
Improving access and eliminating health disparities are among its goals as it provides everything from dental, pediatrics, pharmaceutical and extended-hour walk-in service to OB/GYN, podiatry, family medicine and behavioral health services. The FHC has 166 employees and has a total annual economic impact of $21,985,537.
"We have a philosophy in health care that we never turn away a patient because of a lack of funding. We will see you regardless of whether you have money or not. And the reason why we're a one-stop shop is because we offer a variety of service from adult medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, dental, podiatry, behavioral health, nutritionists, health education and a pharmacy," said Leon Brunson, CEO and president of the FHC.
"All of our facilities have been recently renovated except the main site. We have hired an architect to start the renovation process at the main site. So every one of our facilities will be modernized," he said.
The FHC has also created a new logo and has replaced the roof at each of its locations with green metal roofing to coordinate with its new brand. New LED signs including message boards are also being placed in front of all FHC locations.
With 12 physicians and 14 nurse practitioners on staff, FHC includes an adult medicine unit staffed by internists and nurse practitioners and a X-ray department.
"One of the major things that we're trying to do now is to put telemedicine in K-12 schools. We have signed a contract with Calhoun County Public Schools to implement that and Bamberg School District 2. So far those are the only two, but we're in the talking stage with the remaining school districts," Brunson said.
"We would have a computer system set up in the nurse's office, where a child can come in that is sick and be seen by a doctor. We can prescribe medication to one of our pharmacies or to another pharmacy," he said.
Brunson said the FHC urgent care unit is now being referred to as more of a "walk-in unit where anyone who present themselves to that area of that facility can be seen at that point and time."
The walk-in unit is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. The dental department is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Two pediatricians and two nurse practitioners serve children age 0 to 18 in the pediatric department at the main Orangeburg site.
The FHC operates six satellite sites in Denmark, Holly Hill, Neeses, St. George, St. Matthews and Vance.
"We are opening a new center in Denmark. That community needs a good, clean, nice-looking health care facility and Denmark will have one," Brunson said.
Two dental and optometry mobile units have been traveling across The T&D Region to provide free vision and dental exams, along with teeth cleaning, for uninsured individuals.
Approximately 200 veterans have also been served through the FHC's Veterans Choice Program. FHEC is among the non-U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs providers authorized to provide care to eligible veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility.
"We do not deny anyone access to care at Family Health Center with or without funds. We will see them. I think we are making a tremendous stride in that area," Brunson said, noting he is looking forward into the future.
"Family Health Center is looking at the possibility of becoming an educational center. The educational center will allow … individuals that graduate from medical school to come here and do their residencies so we can change the disparity in the number of doctors that we have in our community.