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New wound center among hospital upgrades

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Sentara Albemarle Medical Center President Coleen Santa Ana is shown, Friday, in the hospital's therapy center, which is undergoing renovations that are nearly complete. The old therapy center “was not well laid out and really dated,” Santa Ana said.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sentara Albemarle Medical Center will soon open a new wound center with hyperbaric oxygen chambers — just one of many improvements planned at Sentara Albemarle for 2018, hospital President Coleen Santa Ana said Friday.

Santa Ana noted the hospital had a successful — but expensive — 2017 that included opening a new, comprehensive orthopedic center and spending $18 million on an electronic medical records conversion project. The project is designed to ensure patient information flows freely within the hospital and throughout the Sentara system, as well as to local physicians and patients themselves.

With that project completed, Sentara Albemarle entered 2018 working to finish its latest facility upgrades. The wound center should open this month and include two hyperbaric oxygen chambers next month, Santa Ana said. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy lets patients breathe concentrated oxygen to speed the body's repair of damaged tissues and its response to infections. Santa Ana first announced the project last year, saying it would cost more than $1 million.

Santa Ana also said the hospital has nearly completed renovations to its therapy center. The old therapy center “was not well laid out and really dated,” Santa Ana said. During a tour of the new therapy center, she pointed out its numerous rooms for physical, occupational, speech and pediatric therapies, and its impact-absorbent floor to reduce injury from falls.

Santa Ana also said the hospital will continue to buy new digital imaging equipment. Though not providing an exact figure, she said it will cost a few million dollars.

Referring to the digital images the equipment will produce, she said, “It's not going to be film anymore and it's not going to need to be filed. … It goes directly to the computer and it can be read very easily; you can zoom in a whole lot nicer.”

Santa Ana said the new equipment will help the hospital spot cancer and other diseases faster. The hospital also will be looking at upgraded imaging for X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs and more, she said.

Sentara Albemarle also plans to continue recruiting physicians in 2018. Santa Ana said the hospital is “always” recruiting primary care doctors, but will also look this year to recruit another gastroenterologist and an obstetrician-gynecologist. She noted the area is losing a gastroenterologist with Dr. Michael Sue’s recent retirement. Sentara Albemarle is working with a recruiting firm to attract an independent gastroenterologist to the area. Gastroenterologists typically prefer to work independently, rather than for hospitals, she said.

In another physician-related development, Santa Ana also reported the hospital is switching firms for its hospitalists, who help manage inpatient care, from Sound Physicians to Envision Physician Services. An Envision subsidiary, EmCare, already works in the hospital's emergency department, she said, and EmCare has delivered improvements there. With Envision hospitalists and EmCare all part of the same company, the goal is to have them work together better, she explained.

Santa Ana also discussed developments in 2017. Due to major capital investments, she said the hospital would end the year with an operating loss. That was expected, however, and she said Sentara continues following a strategic plan from 2014, when it took over the hospital, to modernize patient care and keep more patients in the area.

Those efforts continue to bear fruit, Santa Ana said, based on increased patient volumes, more patients reporting satisfactory outcomes, and the hospital continuing to drive down rates of hospital-acquired infections and other complications in care.

Though Sentara Albemarle expanded services in Elizabeth City in 2017, it also reduced them on the Outer Banks. The hospital announced in December it was ending numerous services at Sentara Kitty Hawk, among them family medicine, sports medicine and surgery. In making that decision, Santa Ana said the hospital had invested millions of dollars in its Sentara Kitty Hawk facility, but it still needed more investment.

“When the building, even after renovation, continued to deteriorate, I think that really pushed us out of that scene,” she said.

Santa Ana also said she had worked with Vidant Health, who partners with Chesapeake Regional Healthcare to operate Outer Banks Hospital, to make sure the services Sentara was ending would still be provided.

Asked if the hospital would look to relaunch services on the Outer Banks, possibly at a different facility, Santa Ana said “we're always looking,” but “there's no building of that likeness” in the area.

“There's nothing in existence today that would've been an easy move,” she said.

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