Local community leaders invited to interact with local health care workers

ELIZABETHTOWN – The Bladen County Hospital Foundation extended an invitation and hosted their first Community Leaders Luncheon at Bladen County Hospital on Wednesday, April 24 from 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. The information sharing session featured a presentation by Spencer Cummings focusing on health care in Bladen County, hospital updates and the new medical office building, for which the Foundation is providing support.

It was a chance for interaction with community leaders who would come to know more about the local health care system and feedback to the foundation for what the community was asking for and questions they had concerning services.

The meeting began with Sabrina Brooks, who is the vice president Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation, who oversees all philanthropic efforts for Cape Fear Valley Health.

“To tell you a little bit about the foundation, we are the philanthropic arm of the health system,” Brooks said. “We have a very robust foundation that works in Fayetteville that oversees everything that happens in Fayetteville and provides that philanthropic support to make health care really great.”

In speaking as to reasons for the presence of the philanthropic, Brooks was very candid and informational about all the things that the foundation does.

“There’s a lot of things that the hospital is responsible for to care for our patients but philanthropy and the work of the foundation just allows us to do that little extra that make a difference in the care that we provide for our patients and the way that they feel when they come in the hospital and then when they go home. We’re really proud that we can provide all of this.”

Kristen Carpenter who is the Development Officer – Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation / Bladen County Hospital Foundation provides oversight of all giving programs for philanthropic efforts of the Bladen County Hospital Foundation and the Hoke Health community, in coordination with Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation. She also addressed and welcomed the leaders and one of the main things she addressed was the foundation’s onus on education and how it fits into the idea of educating local students, finding scholarship money for them and then hiring them after they graduate.

“We have held several Community Leaders Luncheons at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville and they are a wonderful opportunity for our community to learn more about the health system and various projects,” Carpenter said. “This was the first time we hosted a Community Leaders Luncheon at Bladen County Hospital.”

Brooks then introduced Spencer Cummings, President of the Cape Fear Valley Bladen County Hospital who addressed the community leaders as to why the luncheon was developed and why it was important.

“Dealing with community engagement,” Cummings said. “Activities like this is really something we want to engage in. Any opportunity we have to do that, we want to take advantage of that. We definitely want to get the word out as to the services we are providing and to give you the opportunity to give us feedback on those services that we are providing. We are looking to expand to areas that are underserved areas close to us and we definitely want to give some attention to that.”

Cummings came to Bladen County by way of a scholarship.

On a trip to Cape Fear Medical, both Cummings and his wife, also a medical student, were given a scholarship for their last year of school. They then owed Cape Fear a year of service at the main campus and they fell in love with the area and stayed on permanently. They have now been with the Cape Fear Valley Health System for 31 years.

“My career has taken an interesting journey,” he said. “First, I got a job because I had to pay bills, so that was for me. Then a short time later I realized I had to serve the hospital. And then I got to serve the patients. Then I got to serve the customers who were coming in directly. Now I am serving this community. It was a natural progression of things. When this job came available, I had a chance to sit back and pray about it – realizing the progression of seed, time and harvest. For me the harvest came really quickly.”

Cummings went on to get his master’s degree at Fayetteville State University in 2017.

When he came to Elizabethtown, he was working as the VP of surgical services and he felt led to apply for the position. After the process of hiring had been accomplished, he started with boots on the ground Oct. 18, 2023.

“I’m still under the Cape Fear Valley umbrella and this is just one of the campuses,” Cummings said. “The first thing I did was learn. I had to find out all the activities we have going on. We do have our own board here and when we came down here there were not a lot of clinics. We started listening as to what services were needed and we started putting physicians in different areas to take care the needs. Now it’s just not the hospital alone, but we also have clinics that are Cape Fear Valley clinics that help to support the community and also provide a local place where they can get services.”

Cape Fear Valley is a critical care access hospital and they are bound by a 25-bed maximum and an ED that is 24/7. You also have to be 35 miles from the nearest hospital. Critical access means that more people have access to the care provided. It’s not about the dollars at that point in time as there are monies available for the health facility to take care of the costs from that perspective.

“We started the growth to access to care providing different types of providers,” he said. “We have podiatry, pediatrics, family care, express care – so you can get access to them. We also have certified ED physicians rather than local family practice doctors.”

According to Cummings, the Live, Work and Play has a mission that the county is involved in. He said that he’s heard that the biggest thing the county exports is the children. The goal is to keep the children here and give them a reason to stay here.

“We understand the importance of keeping health care local here in Bladen County and it is our mission to ensure that our community has access to the resources they need, close to home,” he said.

An informational packet was handed out at the luncheon entitled, “Blossoming: The image in Bladen County.” It was provided and put together by the Bladen County Hospital Foundation.

“Keeping health care local has been a priority since Cape Fear Valley Health and Bladen County Hospital joined forces in 2012,” Charles Ray Peterson, chair and Bladen County Hospital advisory member posted in the packet. “Bladen County sought a partner to keep health care local and Cape Fear Valley Health knew it was important for our community to have a place close by when care is needed. The goal has always been to keep health care here. Over the past 12 years, we expanded our services, opened additional clinics, and upgraded equipment to ensure that Bladen County residents do not have to travel far to receive the care they need. As our community continues to grow, so does the need for increasing access to health care. Bladen County Hospital Foundation is on a mission to continue making a lasting impact in Bladen County. As we look to the future, we invite you to grow and blossom with us. We remain committed to our promise of keeping health care local and we look forward to expanding our footprint for generations to come, to make sure that our community has the resources they need when it matters most. The Blossoming the Image in Bladen County campaign is our opportunity to continue investing in our health care, so we are able to care for our growing community. Our next step is to construct a new medical office building as a part of the Bladen’s Bloomin’ project with ExpressCare and Primary Care, including Ultrasound and X-ray Machines. We will also be adding a new MRI facility (behind Bladen County Hospital), which will accommodate more patients. With these new facilities and technologies, our patients can receive needed care, close to home. This is your opportunity to make a difference in our community. Join us as we look forward to the future of health care in Bladen County.”

The vision for patients and families in Bladen County needing access to care in their own backyard, was unveiled in the information about a new 8,500 square foot Medical Office Building with an ExpressCare and Primary Care that will provide high-quality health care in the region.

“This project will also expand the health care workforce, creating sought after job opportunities for people in our community,” the Bladen County Hospital Foundation published. “To ensure that we can continue to meet the needs of future generations, it is necessary that we act now. This initiative will kick-start the focus of bringing more specialized care to Bladen County.”

Cummings commented on the challenges to some of the special services that are yet to become a part of the local health care family.

“It’s a slow-moving process because if you have a lot of different people who are providing service and if we start a new service, we have to get staff from somewhere,” he said. “So, that’s really a bottleneck at this point in time. We have to find the equation of staff versus services and make sure we are able to expand services at a quality level.”

In the brochure, the foundation said that “Increasing access to high quality care in our region is the forefront of Bladen County Hospital’s vision. Currently, patients often travel outside of the county to receive X-ray, MRI and ultrasound imaging. Adding these diagnostic machines and building a new medical office building will help ensure our community has timely access to the resources they need. Without access to these resources, our patients are required to travel outside of our community and sometimes health system to receive their care. Travel can be inconvenient and expensive for our patients, who may be feeling ill and experiencing increased stress regarding their health and finances.”

Cummings also followed up on this idea.

“So, what’s on the horizon for us,” he said. “We are looking to bring a fixed MRI here to Elizabethtown. We are in meetings currently to develop a timeline to get that up and running. We are trying to get a date of Jan. 1 to get the first patient in there. We have a mobile truck that comes here twice a week. Once we get the building ready, there will be about 850 people that don’t have to travel so far for that service.”

The logistics of what was described was well thought-out and logistically, the local health care system under the direction of Cummings and the supporting foundation is sound.

“Health concerns can be addressed more quickly and healing treatment can begin as soon as the problem has been identified,” they published. “Access to this level of care will improve health care outcomes and the patient experience. We also strive to make this facility, as well as the upcoming MRI site as comfortable as possible and to make patients at ease, by providing adequate and comfortable seating for everyone in the waiting areas and the exam rooms. A new Ultrasound Machine will be used for a variety of reasons such as monitoring pregnant mothers, examining breast lumps, checking thyroid glands, evaluating blood flow and can be used for screening exams such as carotid ultrasounds and aorta screenings. The X-ray Machine will assist with identifying fractures, revealing bone tumors, finding bone infections and much more. A new MRI Machine on the campus of Bladen County Hospital will accommodate more patients, have longer operating hours and use the latest advancements in technology than the current arrangement. The building will have a generator, which is especially important for bad weather conditions, patient safety and preservation of vaccinations.”

“With a fixed MRI we take back 50% of our market from Southeastern Regional, Columbus Regional, Sampson Regional and 20% from New Hanover Regional while adding a much-needed service to our community,” Cummings said.

The new fixed MRI service will be located at the site of the former Phillips Internal Medicine Practice that is currently rented for $21K per year. It is the only place adjacent to the hospital to expand services. This building was purchased in December 2023.

“Health care landscape has changed,” Cummings said. “Technology changes and we definitely want to evolve with it. The key to that is, the quicker you can evolve to those changes, the better off you are in providing services. We want to stay ahead of the game, in tune and we want to stay involved and engaged.”

An outline from Spencer Cummings of where Cape Fear Valley Bladen County Hospital is at after the first quarter of 2024:

Their mission: Providing exceptional health care for all our patients

Their Vision: In every way, improving the QUALITY of every LIFE they touch

Quality Definition: Doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time, every time.

Their Values:

Patient Centeredness, Integrity, Cultural Diversity, Innovation, Teamwork and Accountability for CFVHS.

A brief history of Bladen County Hospital (BCH) includes being established in 1952 as county owned nonprofit hospital, converting to Critical Access Hospital (CAH) in 2022.

A CAH must meet certain requirements:

Must have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds, you must be located more than 35 miles from another hospital (exceptions may apply), the facility must maintain ALOS of 96 hours or less for acute care, provide 24/7 emergency care services, participate in the Medicare program.

“We have ED certified MDs working in our EDs – That is not a common thing in CAHs,” Cummings said. “We are 1 of 20 CAHs in North Carolina.

Some of the Challenges as a CAH as outlined by Cummings were financial sustainability with volumes-limited services-reimbursement, workforce shortages, infrastructure and technology, emergency preparedness – natural Disasters, population health – preventive care – chronic disease management, regulatory compliance, isolation and distance – collaboration – access to specialty care, community engagement – building trust – advocacy, health equity with access to care for all residents and changing health care landscape – Value base care (quality vs cost) – telehealth.

Cummings also provided proposed countermeasures to their Challenges which included increased access and increased volumes, growing staff within the community and partnership with BCC, continuous recruitment of providers, an EPIC Computer system and to visit volumes.

He said that ED volume is trending up since 2020 and they are on pace this year to see 16,000 visits. Meanwhile, clinic Volume visits are trending up since 2020 and they are on pace to see 51,000 visits.

General information that was provided about the community:

a. Bladen County – Population about 29,000

b. Average median household income of $39,250

c. Challenges in the community include access to medications, access to transportation and health literacy which is important to the access of preventative medicine.

Their current focus, according to Cummings was

a. Community engagement

b. Health equity

c. Looking for opportunities in our Changing health care Landscape

Mark DeLap is a journalist, photographer and the editor and general manager of the Bladen Journal. To email him, send a message to: [email protected]

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