HCH CEO says hospital remains vigilant about COVID-19 protocols

Encourages community members not to interrupt their care, and new provider and program enhances care in the community

Planning for a disaster is one thing, but actually living it brings its real meaning home. This was the case when I was Chief Operating Officer at Hilton Head Hospital in South Carolina and we navigated our way through Hurricane Matthew. It was a situation wherein we had to work with the information we had — and it was constantly changing, be resourceful, and collaborate effectively, not unlike now, as we face the challenges presented by COVID-19.

I’ve said this before: We’re in this together and everyone at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH) and the Eckerd Living Center are still here, providing excellent care in a safe and clean environment. A concerning trend I referenced in my past column was the fact that people were putting off emergency care due to their fear of coming to the hospital, decisions that have life-and-death ramifications. Now, both across the country and here at HCH, we’re seeing folks avoiding the hospital who live with chronic conditions that require continuous management, like high blood pressure and diabetes. The same goes for routine screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, both of which are being offered here at HCH safely and efficiently.

It’s imperative that you come to see us for this care too, so let me reiterate that we do everything possible here to ensure patient safety, from keeping the hospital scrupulously clean to continuing to screen all who enter. If you live with diabetes, and you fail to get proper monitoring and care, you could suffer kidney failure, blindness, or even an amputation. If your high blood pressure isn’t managed, your risk for heart attack or stroke increases. We must all find a way for life to go on, even in this chaotic time, and together we will do it. Part of this is staying safe by getting care for your chronic condition. To put this type of care off is simply too risky.

Our current safety protocols include admitting just one visitor per patient if a companion is needed (note that we still restrict all visitors in the Eckerd Living Center as required by the CDC), safety precautions like frequent sanitization of common areas and removing high-touch items like magazines, universal masking at all times for patients, visitors, and staff, and continued use of Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), of which we have an ample supply. Proper social distancing continues to be adhered to, and we’ve reconfigured waiting areas and patient care areas to accommodate these requirements. At any location in our facility, you’ll also find hand sanitizer, tissue, and wastebaskets.

Another important action you should take is to establish a relationship with a primary care provider (PCP) if you have not already done so. Support of a strong PCP network is one of our key strategies for support of our community on the Plateau. To this point, I’m very pleased to announce that the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation has begun an initiative to expand community members’ access to primary care. The Foundation will fund the creation of a new practice which incorporates a factor that’s key to the Plateau: a rural teaching program executed in conjunction with Blue Ridge Health (BRH) and the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).

The care provided by the new practice will be universal in scope, meaning that common barriers, such as transportation challenges, poverty-related obstacles to getting care, and limited availability of care — due to a facility not offering extended hours to accommodate working families, for example — will be addressed by both the facility as it is planned and the providers as they see patients after they open. The practice will serve the Highlands, Cashiers, and surrounding communities, as well as the sizable population of traveling workers who come here from Macon and Jackson Counties to work each day.

I will provide updates on the progress of this project in future columns, including how it is rolled out and who the provider team will be. The HCHF is leading the fundraising effort for the practice, and all who are interested in learning more and supporting it are encouraged to click HERE or call them at 828.482.8510.

I’m also very pleased to share that our new primary care physician, Dr. Todd Detar, has arrived to serve patients at Mission Community Care – Cashiers, at 57 White Owl Lane. He and his wife are now Cashiers residents, but before his arrival, Dr. Detar was the Medical Director of Roper St. Frances Express Care in Summerville, South Carolina.

Dr. Detar offers family care to the community along with colleagues Becky Baker, NP, and Richard Wayne, PA. He has more than 30 years of valuable and varied experience in family medicine, and graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1987, with honors.

Call the clinic, which is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 828-743-2491 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Detar. Know also that we continue to work at recruiting more primary care providers for the Plateau.

Additionally, COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives in some way. You may be or may know someone facing loss of income and health coverage due to the pandemic. This should not delay anyone from seeking needed medical care, and that is why HCA Healthcare and Mission Health have set up a free and confidential hotline with Patient Benefit Advisors to help people navigate their options when faced with financial hardship from loss of insurance. Help us spread the word about this new resource, check out the Unemployed Health Insurance Hotline webpage and encourage people to call if they have questions. The hotline number is 833.541.5757

As we all wait and hope for a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed as soon as possible, we also know its arrival won’t be instantaneous. However long we need to live in this state of caution and uncertainty, we will continue to do it together. Count on HCH to care for you safely and compassionately, no matter what is going on in the world.

  • Highlands-Cashiers Hospital CEO Tom Neal

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