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Whitfield Regional Hospital modernizing with investments in latest equipment

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes that have come with it, Whitfield Regional Hospital continues to move forward with important upgrades that will take it to the next level of patient care.

Made possible through the passage of a 4-mil property tax last year, the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority Board last week approved the purchase of key equipment that WRH CEO Doug Brewer describes as “the first wave of a new hospital.”

“COVID has changed the way we operate. It is important to recognize our staff that comes in day-in and day-out and who handle the stress that has come with it. It’s really hard right now, not just for us, but every hospital. It’s easy to respond to an emergency it’s hard when that emergency goes on month after month and that is what we are experiencing right now,” Brewer said.

The operations of the hospital has undergone many changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March and the hospital continues to look for ways to provide better care and improve patient satisfaction. Brewer said the longer the pandemic has gone on the more communication has become an issue. In the coming days, the hospital will offer virtual visitations.

“When you can’t let families in … the way we communicate has broken down. We are working on new ways to provide that customer service and communication. We are working on a system that will allow us to reach out to family members to find out what technology they have access to and then schedule times for calls with their family member and to help communicate with nurses and doctors,” Brewer said.

Despite the new operational procedures that have been rewritten throughout the pandemic, hospital officials are working to move forward with goals to improve care for the longterm.

With the approval of the THA Board, the hospital is purchasing the latest technology, including radiology upgrades, beds, nurse call system, computer and server upgrades, endoscopy equipment, and two ultra sound machines.

“There are a lot of things coming that will take our hospital from the past to the future almost overnight, especially in our radiology department,” Brewer said.

Much of the radiology equipment being purchased is the latest technology that will improve imaging and patient satisfaction, according to Dr. John Riendeau, who serves as the hospital’s Administrative Director of Radiology.

“The most important thing is that the equipment will be state of the art. It will greatly enhance the quality of the pictures and also patient safety,” Riendeau said.

The X-ray and Radiology/Fluoroscopy rooms will be transformed to greatly enhance the patient experience.

“The patient dose for radiation will be cut by at least 50 percent.  Patient exams will be three to six times faster and we will receive the digital image instantaneously,” Riendeau said.

“It’s important because we are one of the only places in the region that has the equipment allowing us to cut the amount of radiation,” Brewer added.

“It’s going to be safer for our patients and help the hospital financially. The customer service experience is going to go way up because its faster and safer, even for our staff because they will be exposed to less radiation. Good for everybody,” he said.

The new X-ray room will equipment will hold over 600 pounds, an increase from the current weight of 400.

Physicians will also benefit as they will receive much better images and will receive them almost immediately.

“Image quality across the board will be 40 percent enhanced,” Riendeau said.

In addition to the imaging systems, the hospital has also purchased 32 new beds.

“It’s a big deal. It’s been 28 years since our beds have been replaced, but now we have new, state-of-the-art beds on the way for our ICU and surgery rooms,” Brewer said.

The hospital will also offer enhanced mammography.

“There is no need to go anywhere else for mammography because we will have the latest state-of-the-art technology right here. The exams will be much faster, going from 30 minutes to 15 minutes and it will detect 25 to 60 percent more cancer with 50 percent less radiation. That’s a big difference,” Riendeau said.

The upgraded equipment approved by the board has a cost of approximately $3.5 million.

“This is the first wave of things to get us up to date,” Brewer said. “We will have new nursing computers in the rooms so they can do bedside charting, new ultrasound equipment, both for the emergency department and radiology so they can more quickly diagnose and treat patients. These are things that will improve care for sure.”

Other improvements being planned include construction projects for the parking lot, a new emergency department and front entrance, and replacing the roof. Brewer said the plans for those projects have gone to the state for approval.

Improving equipment will have the added benefit of more dollars for the hospital, according to Brewer.

“The hospital has struggled financially because we couldn’t have the latest technology. Medicare punishes us for that. If you don’t have the latest technology, Medicare is going to pay you less then those who do. So, for the past five years we’ve been getting paid 7 percent less than most other hospitals that do CTs, X-Rays and things like that because we have not been digital,” he said.

“We want people to know that it is their vote in November that allows us to do this. We wouldn’t be here right now if they had not voted for it and that’s the bottom line,” Brewer said.