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Expansion and renovation project continues as staff gets back to normal

SCRMC overcomes damages, shortages from Katrina

Laurel — South Central Regional Medical Center (SCRMC), which overcame damage and serious shortages to remain functioning during Hurricane Katrina, is continuing with its expansion and renovation plans by opening South Central Place, a 43,000-square-foot community health entity and service center, this fall.

The facility, located in a former Wal-Mart store, will house SCRMC’s home health and hospice divisions, patient accounts, accounting, community health education meeting rooms and other medical service functions.

Also this fall, SCRMC will begin a construction project to expand the medical center’s surgical facility and to construct the shell of a new critical care unit. The two-phase project will take approximately two years to complete.

Ellisville Medical Park, a 14,489- square-foot facility featuring family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and rehabilitation services opened this past July. Ellisville Medical Clinic had served the residents of Ellisville and surrounding communities since 1997.

Open Air MRI of Laurel opened in 2004 to provide the latest technology in open MRI services. This joint venture between SCRMC and the physicians at Laurel Bone and Joint Clinic offers a multitude of MRI scans, including magnetic resonance angiogplasty (MRI), which finds diseased blood vessels throughout the body.

In 2002, South Central and 10 surgeons and gastroenterologists opened Laurel Surgery and Endoscopy Center, LLC, a multispeciality outpatient surgical and endoscopy center. The $6-million facility contains the most technologically advanced equipment for minimally invasive surgery as well as the more traditional approaches to surgical intervention.

South Central’s women’s place, The Women’s Floor, opened in 2001 after a $6.2-million renovation project. This added new rooms and renovated facilities to the area. Patient rooms feature wood grained flooring, maple and cherry furnishings and coordinating draperies. The area also includes beautifully decorated LDRs (labor, delivery and recovery rooms) and a new nursery.

And SCRMC’s community health initiative, ALIVE Jones County, has been developed to improve health and well-being in the area. Hundreds of volunteers have taken part in programs that include a teen education initiative, teen health fairs, parenting classes and a community-wide weight loss program.

Focused on community’s needs

“From the beginning, the needs of our community have been foremost in our long range planning efforts,” said Doug Higginbotham, the hospital’s executive director. “Our goal has been to provide high quality, patient-centered health care services to those we serve.”

More than 40 physicians have joined the medical staff at SCRMC in the last 10 years. Specialties include anesthesiology, cardiology, emergency medicine, endovascular surgery, family medicine, gastroenterology, general surgery, internal medicine, neurology, medical oncology, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, physiatry, radiology and urology.

“It is important that hospitals remain at the forefront of medical technology,” Higginbotham said. “One of the key factors has been doctors willing to relocate to the area.”

In addition to its medical service to the community, SCRMC is one of the area’s major employers and economic forces, according to Tom Canizaro, the hospital’s chief financial officer.

Canizaro indicated that South Central has an annual payroll in excess of $53.5 million and buys some $5 million in goods and services from local venders.

SCRMC also pays in excess of $6.5 million in taxes as a result of its participation in two taxable joint ventures. The hospital also collects and pays $100,000 in sales taxes every year.

Canizaro pointed out that, in addition, “South Central has a “tremendous indirect effect due to the impact those that interact with the medical community have on the economy — physician clinics, pharmacies and medical supply companies.”

Storm was ‘tremendous test’

“Hurricane Katrina was a tremendous test of our organization and we believe, by all measures, we performed well,” said Linda Gavin, associate executive director of community services.

But a storm of Katrina’s magnitude had never hit Laurel before and, despite all SCRMC’s planning, emergency meetings and staff preparation, no one could have anticipated Category 3 force winds of 125 mph that drove the deluge of torrential rain through a number of holes in the hospital’s roof, “more leaks than we had ever seen in the facility,” Gavin said.

The wind also forced rain through window seals and cracks in caulking and blew open and broke two of the front doors. Two patient room windows were blown out. The hospital handled the broken windows by placing steel plates in the frames and screwing those plates in place.

“Considering the wind and rain we faced, the buildings held up relatively well but we did sustain damage,” Gavin said.

When power went out, generators came up to full speed seven seconds later, providing power to all circuits.

With communications, the hospital was less fortunate and, except for some phone service to the nursing home, lost all other service from phones, cell phones, pagers and the Internet. Forty-eight hours later, BellSouth restored phone service to the hospital.

The loss of water was the hospital’s most critical problem during the storm but hospital personnel were allowed into Wal-Mart and acquired two pallets of water. Later, volunteer fire departments delivered water, and water was acquired from Coca-Cola and Southern Beverage.

With the exception of emergency surgery, all surgeries were postponed. The emergency surgery and performing a c-section led to a critical shortage of sterile supplies and instruments.

Getting staff to and from work, according to Gavin, was a monumental problem because fuel was not available. Finally, first from a gas station acquired by Howard Industries and then from a Shell station, the staff was able to get the gas it needed — and the need came to some 23,000 gallons.

The emergency room became a shelter and the only source of healthcare because all clinics were closed. The day after the hurricane, there were 220 registered patients and many unregistered shelter patients.

There were also numerous medical evacuees, including dialysis patients and patients seeking oxygen supplies.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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