The speed of care was a key issue discussed as Orangeburg’s Regional Medical Center hosted a town hall meeting at the Orangeburg County Library on June 20.

The town hall was open to the public and served as a way for hospital management to hear the community’s concerns about the hospital’s operation.

The event was attended by hospital employees, management and members of the public.

A major goal of the meeting was to encourage the community to utilize the hospital’s Express Care instead of the emergency room. RMC President and CEO David Southerland said this would help with long wait times in the emergency department.

“If you have a runny nose or if you have a swollen ankle or an upset stomach, and you come to ED and you expect to be treated in 30 minutes, it’s not going to happen,” Southerland said. “Because we’ve got gunshots coming in the door, cardiac arrests, we have drug overdoses, people that have much more serious medical conditions that have a higher level of care need to be treated.”

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Southerland said patients with less-serious conditions can be treated in 30-45 minutes in the Express Care instead of waiting hours in the ER.

How the hospital plans to shorten wait times was one of several questions asked by community members. Another was about using the hospital’s website and the hours of operation of the Express Care Center.

One woman at the meeting said she brought her daughter to the Express Care twice when the hospital’s website said it would be open only to receive no treatment.

On her first visit, the woman said she arrived 45 minutes before closing and was turned away.

“The nurse said they weren’t taking any more patients and I said, ‘Well the website says y’all are open until 8,’ and then she told me that my daughter looked really bad and she sent us to the ER,” the woman said.

On a second visit, the woman came to Express Care while the website said it would be open only to find “no one there.”

Sabrina Robinson, RMC’s vice president of operations, said the Express Care Center – like the rest of the health care industry – has been struggling to find employees and is still actively recruiting.

She also said cutoff times are sometimes necessary during high-traffic times.

“Sometimes there will be a cut-off time because we don’t have the ability to stay until midnight,” Robinson said.

Robinson said social media is the best way to receive updates about the center’s hours changing and that the hospital is currently in the process of improving its website, which she said is difficult to use.

“It’s not an excuse to your point,” Robinson said. “It’s all about communication. So we do have to own the communication piece.”

Southerland said he had taken note of what the woman experienced and would be discussing it in a meeting the next morning.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re having these meetings,” Southerland said. “To understand where we’re not doing a good job.”

Some attendees asked about the hospital’s transportation services and if there was a way to make them more effective, such as by purchasing a fleet of ambulances.

Southerland said owning and operating ambulances would be too expensive, but the hospital is looking into a new contract with other EMT providers, including a potential partnership with the Lyft ride-sharing service.

Southerland said another reason for the meetings is to encourage the public to use services at RMC, which can handle anything short of brain and open heart surgery.

“The one thing I do ask from the community, though, is that the community needs to support the hospital,” Southerland said. “This is a county-owned facility. This is a hospital that was built and owned by citizens of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties and if the citizens continue to go out of the county and seek health care in Charleston or Columbia, at some point, it’s going to be more difficult to survive.”

Southerland said he was happy with the town hall, but he had hoped more people would attend. He said other town halls in other areas of the community are in the works for the future.

Caleb Bozard is a news intern at The Times and Democrat through the sponsorship of the South Carolina Press Association Foundation. He is a student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

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