Highland Hospital improves

Published 2:04 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Highland Community Hospital has been working to make many improvements since they were purchased by Forrest General Hospital of Hattiesburg.

“The main improvement at the hospital is the new Hospitalist program that went into effect on June 1,” the administrator for the hospital, Steve Grimm said. He called the hospitalist program the “most important program” because it will “cut down on visit time in the emergency room.”

A hospitalist is a physician who will act as a primary physician accepting unassigned patients.

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Grimm said the current facilities at HCH have eight beds in the emergency, and have been averaging about 1,500 patients per month. Up until now, they have had only one doctor in the emergency room, but with the new Hospitalist program, all that has changed, Grimm said.

Under the Hospitalist program, a Hospitalist doctor will be physically in the hospital from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., and will be on call from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. Grimm mentioned several doctors participating in the program, including Dr. Robert Lopez, Dr. Ahmad Haidar, Dr. Walter Gipson, and Dr. John Barton.

Also, the new program allows any patients that come to the hospital through the emergency room to be admitted under the attending doctor on staff, even if their regular doctor is not a hospital physician. Previously, if a patient’s general practitioner was not a hospital physician, they could not be admitted to the hospital.

Grimm says the program will change as it becomes apparent what works best for the hospital. “We’ll just play that by ear,” said Grimm, and he added that the program is a “work-in-progress.”

Grimm says he hopes the Hospitalist program will eliminate long waits in the emergency room. “I think that’s really terrific for the community,” said Grimm.

Another improvement for the hospital is the availability of services through Forrest General Hospital, including the Trauma Network System. With the trauma system, a helicopter is within 35 minutes of Highland, and a trauma team is on-call 24 hours a day.

“That’s one of the real benefits of being part of Forrest General,” said Grimm.

Another benefit of being part of FGH is the increased ability to recruit doctors and specialists for the hospital. “It was hard to recruit doctors when we had no future,” said Grimm. “Forrest General has made an investment in our future to create a facility we’ve needed for the last 30 years.”

Plans have been made for a new $68 million facility to be built to replace the existing facility, Grimm said. “I believe they’re within 30 days of purchasing and announcing where the land is,” Grimm said.

Once the land has been finalized and an expedited certificate of need is obtained, the construction of the facility will be done by Marshall Erdman, which is a company that specializes in building hospitals. Marshall Erdman will try to use local workers to build the facility if possible, Grimm said, and once construction is under way, it should be completed within around 34 months.

“It’s a long process, but it will go much faster once we get past that first barrier,” Grimm said, referring to the finalization of the land purchase.

Another program is Highland On Call, which is a 24-hour help line that patients can call and connect with a certified nurse at any time to ask health-related questions. The nurse then feeds the question into a database and gives the appropriate instructions for their condition or advises the patient to go to their local physician.

Other improvements at the current facility include updated equipment, re-paving of the parking lot, and restricted access to the emergency room.

Of all the improvements that have been made, however, Grimm says the heart of the hospital is its staff. “We have a dedicated nursing staff. They’re the ones who give the care. We’re very fortunate, and that’s one of our largest assets,” Grimm said.