Dr. Phil Jackson (left), the new president at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, discusses the hospital’s new nuclear medicine camera with Lance Ruis, a nuclear medicine technologist, at the hospital in Elizabeth City, Wednesday. Jackson said Sentara Albemarle’s biggest focus in 2020 will be on increasing patients’ access to health care locally.

Sentara Albemarle Medical Center and its new president are focusing in 2020 on enabling area residents to receive as much of their health care as possible locally.

Dr. Phil Jackson, who began as president at Sentara Albemarle on Nov. 30, said in an interview last week the Elizabeth City-based hospital is fortunate to be part of a robust healthcare system, Norfolk, Virginia-based Sentara Healthcare. But he also wants to see local residents have more opportunities to get their health care needs met here at home.

Jackson said he has been meeting with hospital staff and community leaders since his arrival to better understand what the community is looking for. The top community priority overwhelmingly is “access to care,” he said.

Jackson said his goal is to have the hospital address that desire in 2020.

“That is my number one priority here as president in the coming year,” he said.

The hospital is increasing its recruitment efforts to attract more physicians, including specialists such as urologists, orthopedic surgeons, a gastroenterologist and obstetrician-gynecologists, Jackson said.

Within the next month the hospital will be adding a new primary care physician, Dr. Tyler Pittman.

“Primary care is at the forefront,” Jackson said. Sentara Albemarle’s goal is to increase the availability of primary care in Elizabeth City and in the surrounding areas, he said.

“Technology will play a huge role,” Jackson said. Especially in rural areas, technology is an important tool in expanding access to care, he said.

“That is so, so important to me,” Jackson said.

Sentara Albemarle is is primary stroke center and has protocols for stroke that include immediate online access to a neurologist to evaluate stroke symptoms, Jackson explained.

“We use that several times a week,” he said of the stroke protocol, adding that it’s a great example of the benefits of technology.

Sentara Albemarle staff are active in the community and the hospital conducts community events such as health screenings, Jackson said. Recently the hospital has been promoting the importance of getting a flu shot, he said.

Staff are also focused on enhancing patients’ experience at the hospital, Jackson said. He said Sentara Albemarle exceeded its expectations last year for reduced wait times in the emergency department, and as a result is setting the bar even higher this year.

Jackson said he is excited about a $4.4 million investment that Sentara Healthcare is making in new imaging equipment at Sentara Albemarle. The upgrades include replacing a 17-year-old magnetic resonance imaging scanner and adding a second computed tomography scanner and a new bone density X-Ray device.

The hospital also has plans to build a cancer center off Halstead Boulevard Extended but that is probably still a couple of years out, according to Jackson.

Jackson came to Sentara Albemarle from Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tenn. He also is a past administrator of the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia.