Sentara Albemarle's Breast Center redesign nears completion


Sentara Albemarle Medical Center President Coleen Santa Ana discusses the hospital's goals for the new year, alongside new equipment being installed in the hospital's Breast Center, Tuesday afternoon.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, January 13, 2019

An expanded, more “patient-centric” breast center and more access to physical therapy and orthopedic surgeons are among Sentara Albemarle Medical Center's goals for 2019, hospital President Coleen Santa Ana said last week.

She also reported the Elizabeth City hospital is in good financial health — it's poised to at least break even for 2017-18 — and has seen a major increase in patients transferring to the hospital.

During an interview looking at the year ahead for the hospital, Santa Ana said Sentara’s philosophy has been and remains being “patient-centric,” which includes bringing needed, related services together in one space.

That mindset informs one of Sentara Albemarle’s immediate goals: finishing renovation of the Breast Center. The hospital is adding ultrasound services to the center, complementing new equipment such as a biopsy cart that staff say will enable faster, more comfortable biopsies.

Another key addition to the center is a second 3D mammography machine, which Santa Ana said should be in service Jan. 28. The hospital introduced its first 3D mammography machine several years ago, and demand for it has become extremely high, she explained.

“It's been going gangbusters,” Santa Ana said, adding the machine has seen “more than 100 percent utilization.” Rather than put patients on a waiting list to use it, Sentara Albemarle increased hours to ensure timely access, she said.

Santa Ana and Annya Soucy, Sentara Albemarle’s oncology service line leader, said the hospital has also added other support for patients. When patients get concerning results, there's a patient navigator available to help them work through their next steps, they said.

New supports for patients with all types of cancer are also in motion, they said. Sentara Albemarle last year started “psychosocial distress screening,” which helps patient find help for whatever is most worrying them about their diagnosis, and it's creating a cancer support group and a wig boutique, they said.

Santa Ana also noted that, with the addition of warmer colors for the walls and flooring, the breast center is being redesigned to feel less clinical and more “soothing.” The entire redesign for the center should be done by late April, she said.

Santa Ana also said the hospital continues responding to community demand, and is adding services in physical therapy and orthopedics. The hospital opened a physical therapy center at the Albemarle Family YMCA, but it's been “over capacity,” she noted.

Sentara Albemarle also plans to open a physical therapy office in the Tanglewood area off Halstead Extended this summer, and will take over the physical therapy office at the Currituck YMCA, Santa Ana said.

Because the hospital has also seen growth in orthopedic services, it's brought in Dr. Harry Molligan III through a part-time, but permanent, arrangement to provide orthopedic trauma surgery.

Last month Sentara Albemarle similarly recruited another Virginia-based orthopedic surgeon, Dr. John McGuigan, to provide hand surgeries. The hospital did so because a lot of patients were traveling out of the area for hand surgeries, Santa Ana said.

Physician recruitment, across specialties, was a concern for county officials when they leased what was then Albemarle Hospital to Sentara Healthcare in 2014. Asked about broader physician recruitment, Santa Ana said that, after recruiting the orthopedic surgeons and other doctors last year, the hospital needs to help build their practices. The hospital this year will continue trying to expand primary care, she added.

In a followup email, Soucy reported the hospital has recruited a total of 18 total physicians, including five orthopedists, four anesthesiologists, three pediatricians, three general surgeons, two obstetrician-gynecologists, and a primary care doctor. It's recruited 12 other “mid-level providers,” including five hospitalists and six emergency department providers in 2018.

Santa Ana also provided some other recent highlights:

* Sentara Albemarle has risen to the 90th percentile nationally for treatment times for “treat and release” patients in its emergency department. The median treatment time for emergency patients not needing admittance to the hospital is 114 minutes, she said.

* The hospital has earned accreditations from the American College of Radiology, American College of Radiation Oncologists, and Commission on Cancer for meeting certain standards in procedures or practices. The hospital has never held those accreditations prior to 2018, she added. Notably, the hospital also won certification as a Primary Stroke Center.

* Sentara Albemarle has seen a 142-percent increase in patient transfers to the hospital from 2016 to 2017. Noting patients leaving the area was a major concern prior to 2014, Santa Ana credited years of new investments, expanded services and improved safety metrics for helping attract patients. Transfer data for 2018 isn’t yet available, she added.

* The hospital expects to finish 2017-18 with a break-even or positive operating margin. The year prior, Sentara Albemarle expected an operating loss due to major capital investment, Santa Ana reported last January.