Reader Commentary: Overcoming barriers to advance healthcare in our region
By Mark Boucot
December marks my fifth anniversary as the leader of Garrett Regional Medical Center. I believe that in these five years we have witnessed a substantial transformation of our hospital. The dream and vision that we all shared to evolve from a community-based hospital to a regional medical center has materialized. We now serve 46,000 residents in Garrett County and surrounding communities in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
GRMC must function within a financially capped system established by the state of Maryland that regulates the total revenue a hospital can receive each year. Despite this complexity, the hospital has grown significantly by adding services not often seen in rural areas. This growth of services has also resulted in a 23 percent increase in full-time positions within four years.
Nationally, rural hospitals and the services they provide are on the decline. According to the National Rural Hospital Association, 89 rural hospitals have closed just within the last three years. That means effective healthcare services are harder to come by: expectant mothers are traveling greater distances to deliver newborns, and resources are scarce for rural residents impacted by our nation’s staggering opioid epidemic.
Despite this trend, GRMC has grown patient volumes by nine percent over the last four years as we’ve expanded services. The clinical affiliation with WVU Medicine has enabled GRMC to become the regional medical center that it is today.
The impact of our affiliation with WVU Medicine is easily seen in our efforts to establish a cancer center in Garrett County. The community rallied around the hospital and that support, coupled with our clinical affiliation with WVU Medicine, resulted in the opening of the WVU Cancer Institute James and Shirley Bailey Cancer Center at GRMC three years ago. I fought back tears as our first patient rang the healing bell in June of 2017. Area residents no longer travel for care; their care is provided here at home by Kevin Shannon, M.D., an award-winning, triple-board certified oncologist. Dr. Shannon, who joined us in July, is making a difference in the lives of the people of our region.
In addition, Oakland was the first satellite clinic of the WVU Heart & Vascular Institute, which opened in 2016. Through this partnership, GRMC has added advanced vascular studies, vascular surgical procedures and diagnostic tests for cardiac patients. We also have WVU Medicine specialty physicians holding nephrology and dermatology clinics at GRMC.
Our region offers an abundance of recreational amenities and an exceptional quality of life in a friendly, small-town atmosphere, giving us a unique advantage in attracting new physicians and healthcare professionals. We’ve added two new surgical subspecialties to our array of surgical services with Abigail Feathers, M.D., gynecological surgeon, and Lynda Dougherty, M.D., colorectal surgeon.
In keeping with our mission to treat each patient like family, we launched the Well Patient Program, which is essentially a care coordination team that works with patients and their caregivers to utilize the best care options for their chronic conditions. This approach has proven effective in seeing improved patient outcomes, reducing both emergency room visits and hospital stays.
In addition to the services we currently provide, we will be launching Family Health & Wellness in January 2019, which will provide much-needed behavioral health and addictions treatment services for our entire region. The Oakland-based clinic is a collaboration with WVU Medicine’s Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry.
As I reflect upon the last five years at GRMC, I attribute our success to the employees who make a difference, every day. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. The hospital’s success would not be possible without the generosity and support of our community and the collaborative efforts of GRMC’s Board of Governors, medical staff, employees and the network of providers throughout our service area. We especially owe a debt of gratitude to our hospital physicians, who have dedicated their careers to serving our community and who have helped clear a pathway to the success we enjoy today.
Looking to the future, I will strive to continue to serve this community by further advancing our region’s healthcare and collaboration.
I thank each and every one of you for placing your trust in the care that we provide. May God bless you and may God continue to bless the communities we serve.
Mark Boucot is CEO and President of Garrett Regional Medical Center in Oakland, Md. and Potomac Valley Hospital in Keyser, W.Va. He is a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and chairman of the board of directors for the Maryland Rural Health Association.