Town hall prompts discussion

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Approximately 20 community members took part in a town hall where participants asked questions and discussed health care with leadership at Centra Health on May 29, 5 p.m. at The Woodland Inc.

New Centra Health CEO Andrew “Andy” T. Mueller introduced himself to the audience and said he was glad to see the commitment by staff at Centra Southside Community Hospital and other facilities to care for their neighbors.

“I had a lot of thoughts in my head about what this experience, and what this organization, what these communities would be like,” Mueller said. “Since arriving here, so much of what I thought has been reinforced and even accentuated.”

Mueller had been Senior Vice President at Novant Health, based in North Carolina, received his medical degree from the University of North Carolina and was deployed overseas twice as a flight surgeon for the Air Force prior to being hired by Centra in April.

“These are amazing communities with amazing people, who all deserve great care,” Mueller said.

He said he understands the importance of good patient experiences, having worked as a primary physician in Lynchburg and has seen patients as recently as a month ago.

Addressing the challenges Centra is recently facing, Mueller said he is confident Centra can rise above and address them.

Centra Southside Community Hospital CEO Tom Angelo also spoke, addressing topics that had been discussed during the last town hall in October 2018. He said long waits at the emergency room and Centra Medical Group, and potential lapses of communication between patients and providers remain a struggle. He said a solution has been to notify patients via sign how long they will be waiting.

Angelo also said a suggestion by an audience member in October to create opportunities for patients to meet the doctors at the Farmville hospital prompted them to create a Meet and Greet event this spring. He said the event was a huge success.

Angelo also cited changes being made at Centra Medical Group due to a number of issues in management.

“We had a severe issue with leadership at the medical center that ran in the ditch in a bad way, as bad as you can see going from an employee standpoint and a patient standpoint,” he said.

Cheryl Moore, practice coordinator, Donna Harber, director of operations and Shannon Knight, managing director, are cited as seeking to address issues at the medical center.

Angelo spoke about new orthopedic doctors who have been hired since January, two new pediatricians between the end of 2018 to the present day. One of the pediatricians specializes in endocrinology and diabetes care, a cardiologist and an urologist, who will be coming to Centra in September.

He encouraged participants to tell them the good and bad of their experiences. He said they may not be able to solve each issue instantly, but said they would try to listen and work through the issues.

“The only way we get better is if we hear these kind of things,” Angelo said.

“We’re in charge of health care in this region, and we’ve got to own it,” Angelo said during the meeting.

He said that the current condition of the hospital has improved over the past, in part due to advanced technology that allows the hospital to treat patients more efficiently. He said the hospital has an agreement with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agencies that if personnel see an electrocardiogram (EKG) and believe the patient is having a heart attack, Centra can call the helicopter before the ambulance arrives.

Sen. Mark Peake, who attended the meeting, asked who pays for the helicopter service.

Angelo said insurance agencies pay to a certain extent, and said if the situation is emergent the cost should be covered. Doctors from Centra can determine whether a helicopter is needed or not, Angelo said.

Speakers Audrey Sullivan, Justine Young and Diane Zeller addressed long wait times. Sullivan said the wait time did not change, even though she waited longer than what the sign read. Zeller said she waited so long at a Centra Medical Group exam room that the lights turned off. Young, executive director of Piedmont Senior Resources (PSR) said the long wait times have impacted the senior clients and volunteers who use PSR’s non-emergency medical transportation services.

Angelo and Mueller apologized to them for the long waits, and said they would work with staff to counter the wait times and make sure representatives were on hand to check up on patients as they waited.

“We have an obligation to inform you about the delays, and then give you some options,” Mueller said.

Angelo cited that Mondays are often the busiest times for the medical centers in Farmville, as people are seeking appointments before work or school.

A member of the audience asked about the long wait times to make an appointment for mammograms. Angelo said the Gretna Centra location has a 3-D mammography system that Centra Southside could request. There is also a mammography unit within the hospital and a mobile unit. Angelo said at one point, it had taken six months to get an appointment for primary care.

For patients who want to see a doctor who has a long wait time, Angelo said officials can direct people to other doctors.

“We do hear the concern regarding access and are trying to get providers in,” Moore said.

Buzz Ashbrook said he had made appointments and receiving calls from Centra rescheduling those appointments.

Angelo said appointments are usually only changed if the doctor is ill or there is a family emergency. He said a lot of the shifts in appointments occurred prior to Centra Medical Group’s changes in leadership.

Margaret Richard spoke about weekslong wait to fill a prescription for her son, which may have been caused by miscommunication between parties involved with filling the prescription.

Angelo, Moore and Knight said the new system related to filling prescriptions has been an issue in the past but said Centra Medical Group is in the process of establishing a companywide performance improvement program to address the issue.

Carolyn Higgins with Longwood University said she receives infusions at Centra Southside Community Hospital for Crohn’s disease.

She said the Commonwealth of Virginia has a new contract with Anthem Blue Cross health insurance, meaning that Centra would no longer take her insurance. She asked about the potential for a stand-alone infusion center that could come to Farmville.

“I was born at Southside Community Hospital,” Higgins said, adding that she would rather stay close to home than travel to Richmond or Lynchburg. “I want everything to stay in my community where I live.”

Mueller said the topic of outpatient centers had come up during a work retreat, and said he was interested in looking into a possible solution so people can get infusion treatments close to home.

“The reality is, we know these changes are coming, so why wait for them to come before we react,” Mueller said.