Southampton Memorial Hospital: Phil A. Wright, Chief Executive Officer

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The difficult economy of the last four years has impacted communities in profound and life-altering ways. For much of its history, Franklin, Va., depended on the local paper mill as its economic lifeblood.

Through a variety of private owners, including most recently, International Paper, the mill was a community hallmark, the number-one employer in a rural area whose livelihood depended more on agriculture than industry.

In 2010, this legacy came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, the mill was shut down, and 1200 people were left unemployed and uninsured with a future that couldn’t be bleaker.

Southampton Memorial Hospital, always the number-two or number-three employer in the city, suddenly became the number-one employer. This is a responsibility the organization takes very seriously, in addition to its role as the sole healthcare provider in the immediate area.

Licensed for 90 acute-care beds and 131 long-term beds, CEO Phil A. Wright describes Southampton as a good old-fashioned community hospital that offers a little bit of everything, including high patient-satisfaction scores and high core-measures outcomes.

Not just a business

For Wright, his passion for providing quality healthcare isn’t limited by the size and scope of an organization. He believes that healthcare at one time had fallen behind the curve in offering excellent customer service to its patients. However, now with the focus on HCAHPS ratings, core measures, and other quality indicators, hospitals recognize the importance of listening carefully to the consumer.

When people come to a hospital, he says, they may not be knowledgeable in the scientific aspects of care, but they are aware of the common courtesies, such as hot food, personable treatment, clean facilities, and attentive care.

“It’s just the basic blocking and tackling of healthcare – treating people how they would want to be treated.” he said.

In a rural community, these “basic things” become more important since everybody knows everybody.

“I really think in a place like this, it’s important that you give that extra type of hometown care because you’re always going to be dealing with somebody’s brother or somebody’s sister or uncle or father,” Wright stated.  “In a small community, I think it’s a lot easier for you to tarnish your reputation. Word gets around a lot faster if you’re not doing your job or going that extra mile to take care of people. “

Although Southampton’s services are general, it does offer some specialty services, especially in obstetrics. For the last five or six years, the hospital has conducted about 300 deliveries each year. Wright said this definitely fills a need in the market, since one would have to travel at least 30 miles in each direction before arriving at another hospital that delivers babies. He would like to grow this program in the coming years and is actively recruiting physicians for OB.

Southampton also offers its Healthy Woman initiative that encourages women in the community to band together to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit. The initiative offers a variety of activities and events that are designed to address various health issues specifically affecting women.

Furthermore, the hospital has taken the 30-Minute Pledge for its ER. This pledge vows to have a clinical professional evaluate a patient within 30 minutes of checking in.

“We’ve committed ourselves to that, and it was easy for us, because I believe we were already meeting that door-to-doctor outcome in under 30 minutes,” Wright said, adding that he views ER efficiency as a powerful marketing tool for the hospital, and one that can be used to prevent people from leaving Southampton’s service area to go elsewhere.

Advantages of a corporate arm

As a member of Community Health Systems, Inc., (CHS) Southampton has the benefit of a corporate arm that can provide assistance in just about any area, whether it’s contract management, physician recruitment, or quality.

“We’re fortunate to have a corporate structure, folks that we can call upon, resources that we can call upon to assist us in accomplishing our goals,” Wright said.

CHS is working diligently to implement meaningful use and bring all of its 135 hospitals onto the same platform. Southampton has already implemented an EMR in its physician clinics to much success.

“We were a little hesitant,” Wright said. “We thought the physician population would give us a little pushback, which some did, and that’s to be expected, but for the most part, they’ve jumped on board, and they actually like it. It’s made them more efficient. It’s a lot easier for them to navigate through their day with that EMR.”

Largely thanks to their CHS association, Southampton has also made some recent and significant investments in imaging. In the last couple of years, the hospital went on board with digital mammography and a new fetal-monitoring system, GE Centricity, for the OB unit.

Furthermore, Wright said they’re looking to recruit in such core-specialty areas as pulmonology, critical care, cardiology, and GI.

Waiting for reform

Although many healthcare professionals have their gripes about reform, Wright isn’t among them. He describes himself as being in “wait-and-see” mode. Ultimately, he feels that reform could benefit their economically troubled area.

“When you’re in a place like Franklin that’s got high unemployment and a lot of folks experiencing hard times, any coverage is good coverage, which can make a positive impact on the hospital,” Wright said.

Believing in the future

In spite of the challenges Southampton is facing right now, Wright foresees a bright future. International Paper recently announced that the mill is not going to be completely abandoned, and portions of it will be repurposed, bringing 200 to 300 jobs back into the area.

“Franklin has gone through some tough times, but I truly believe better days are on the way, and we definitely have a great town, a great hospital that people can come to, and we’ll constantly be trying to improve all of our services that we have so that people can feel good about utilizing our facility.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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