Reflections on the considerable gifts of 2021

By Highlands-Cashiers Hospital CEO Tom Neal

As 2021 comes to a close, I think most of us are not just reflecting on the past year, but the nearly two years that have elapsed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It completely changed how we live, how our children learn, how we do business, and of course, how we deliver and receive our healthcare.

Despite all we have been through during this time, we are in quite a different place with the virus thankfully, and I’d like to reflect on some gifts that our community gives us, and the gifts we feel privileged to provide to the community. 

First, I want to say thanks for the gift of new physicians. We are blessed to have several new providers join us in 2021 to include several new primary care physicians. The first to join our community was the new Blue Ridge Health: Highlands-Cashiers with Ann Davis, MD and Kristy Fincher, MD.  What a blessing, and we want to express a special thank you to the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation who helped make this happen. 

Next, we welcomed our new providers in the Cashiers Clinic on White Owl: Kate Shattenkirk, MD and Physician Assistant, Allison Litchfield, MPAS, PA-C. These new providers complement our stellar existing provider team of Becky Baker, MD, Scott Baker, MD, and Patti Wheeler, MD.  Finally, we were blessed to receive a new specialist on the Plateau with the addition of General Surgeon John Bishop, MD.

I want to add next a thank you to all of the clinicians and support staff at Highlands Cashiers Hospital and Eckerd Living Center. There are so many who contribute to the care and comfort of our patients and residents, and their service and dedication are gifts that keep on giving to our community as well.

Every team member, from the nurses, therapists, technologists, and aides, to the staff in the environmental services and dietary services departments, as well as our maintenance team and the admissions and administrative professionals and all of the leadership, contribute to our excellence. Without them, we would not be able to achieve such high marks as the #1 ranked Emergency Department in all of HCA Healthcare for patient experience, a 5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for the Eckerd Living Center, or 10 years without a hospital acquired infections from key medical devices. 

A critically important gift that the community gave to each other was the Highlands Cashiers Plateau Vaccine Initiative. More than 250 people provided more than 14,000 vaccine injections, and we are still counting with our most recent effort being the vaccination of children at the Highlands School. Our community stepped up in a way that was nothing short of amazing. 

Personally, I found this so fulfilling as we met and helped so many people. It will be one of my and my wife’s most cherished memories. I think it is not a big secret that I was recognized as a Healthcare Hero by the North Carolina Hospital Association for this effort, which was very humbling.

Those that know me would tell you that I shy from recognition and would prefer my teams be recognized. With that being said, I am passing it back to each of you who volunteered.  You are all Healthcare Heroes. Get yourself a cape and embrace your superpower of saving lives through community vaccination. 

Next, I want to say thank you to HCA Healthcare for the abundant capital investment of $8.2 million. This investment has been nothing short of transformative for Highlands-Cashiers Hospital and the Eckerd Living Center.

It enabled us to completely renovate our Surgical Suite and restart surgical services after being closed for 7 years, create a new Digital Radiology Suite, and offer 3D mammograms to our patients, among other patient-centered benefits. The investment also extends to providing enhanced nurse education here at the hospital and making improvements to our building.

My tenure at HCH has flown by — it seems like just yesterday that my wife, Robin, and I arrived as new transplants to the Plateau. We are forever grateful for the gift of welcome and inclusion that the community has extended us.

The gifts of support to HCH from community members and trust in our care inspire us to continue striving to do our very best for our patients, and this is something that every team member at HCH and ELC is called to do. It’s why we’re here. Our invested neighbors, incredible staff, and the strong foundation of HCA Healthcare are all great gifts, and they all contribute to our most important goal and accomplishment — to provide our community with the best care.

I speak for everyone at HCH and ELC in wishing our community happy, safe, and healthy holidays.

Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.

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