A center specializing in the treatment of all wounds will open next month, a partnership between Sampson Regional Medical Center and Florida-based company Healogics and another step by the hospital to provide needed state-of-the-art care close to home.
The Wound Care Center will open Nov. 4 in the Woodside Professional Building adjoining the main hospital, with plans to open the permanent location within the hospital as soon as mid-December, but likely in January, once construction is finalized.
“We see every wound — if it’s open, we see it,” said Stevie Hull, program director for the Wound Care Center. “We specialize in chronic wounds, those wounds that after two weeks aren’t seeing signs of healing.”
Katie Brick, vice president for clinical operations at Sampson Regional and hospital liaison for Healogics, said the center will fill a need in the community.
“We were hearing from our community that they were going outside the local area to have wounds be taken care of by Wound Care Centers in Fayetteville and other areas,” said Brick. “So we did market analysis and discovered that over 20 percent of our local community has diabetes. Diabetes is a precursor for wounds. As we looked into it further, we wanted to be able to better serve the needs of our community and provide wound care here.”
Sampson Regional subsequently partnered with Healogics, which will provide oversight and management of wound care services. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., Healogics and its affiliated companies manage approximately 520 Wound Care Centers across the country and see nearly 200,000 patients per year through a connected network of centers, partner hospitals, academic medical centers, patients and families.
Brick said the local Wound Care Center will be located on the third floor of the Woodside Professional Building when it opens initially. Once renovations are complete, the facility will be permanently housed centrally on the second floor of the hospital, in the old pediatric unit.
“We’ll have four exam rooms and two hyperbaric chambers. It’s a great facility, a great setup,” Hull said. “Our hyperbaric chambers can see, or ‘dive,’ as many as eight patients in a day. Most patients will have 40 treatments so, when you can only dive eight patients a day and each has 40 treatments, you can see that waiting list can really fill up.”
Local physicians will make referrals and patients can also call and make their own appointments, however there will be no walk-ins. Hull said the goal would be to have 20-25 wound care encounters a day, but the new center will likely start slow, at between five or six a day, with new patient intake proving to be a long process with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Joint Commission guidelines to be followed.
“We are expecting by the end of the first year to have seen around 300 patients,” Brick said.
Amber Cava, SRMC’s director of marketing and community relations, said the Wound Care Center will have surgeons specialized in wound care, including Dr. John McPhail of Clinton Surgical Associates, Dr. John Roberts, OB/GYN, and Dr. Jim Thomas, a surgeon who has previous experience in Wound Care Centers. McPhail and Roberts will still manage their practices, working on a rotating basis within the new center.
In addition to their medical training, the doctors have undergone intense wound care training.
“They truly have the expertise to care for these wounds specifically,” Brick said.
Along with the local physicians, that rigorous training extends to all staff who will be working in the Wound Care Center, including contracted hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) technicians and registered nurses, many from Sampson, who have applied for the new positions and been trained in Florida.
The center will ensure patients are HBO-approved through insurance and preliminary testing before a patient moves on to hyperbaric oxygen treatments, if necessary.
“When a patient comes into the Wound Care Center, our goal immediately is to heal that wound within 14 weeks,” Hull remarked. “On average, most patients will have about nine visits total. If that wound is a little more severe, such as a diabetic ulcer, then they will advance into the hyperbaric chambers.”
The hyperbaric chamber is pressurized with 100 percent oxygen and the treatments are about two hours long.
“We have seen great success with it,” Hull said.
Treating a need
The closest Wound Care Centers are in Fayetteville and Goldsboro, quite a drive for a patient who has a severe wound.
“Especially if you require 40 treatments,” Cava said.
Hull, who herself has been a patient at a Wound Care Center, said such a local facility can add not only convenience but a comfortability factor, both for patients and physicians.
“It’s very uncomfortable,” said Hull of being a wound patient. “Sometimes these wounds smell, sometimes they drain … and the last thing you want is to be the only person in a waiting room going through that. I think it’s important that these patients understand they’re not alone, we do this every day and you’re no different than anyone else.”
With a center completely devoted to wound care, patients can build rapport with the physicians, as well as other patients. The hyperbaric chambers, whose $120,000 apiece cost is a joint investment by the hospital and Healogics, also are set up in a way to ease those with claustrophobia, outfitted with communication devices to talk to technicians as well as a TV mounted to the top to help treatment sessions go by a little quicker.
“It’s really a great environment,” Hull remarked.
And with Sampson County currently ranking 6th among 100 counties in the state for number of diabetes cases, the center will provide a much-needed service for those afflicted with the disease identified as a primary cause for wounds seen at other Wound Care Centers.
“It appeared there was over 2,000 patients (in Sampson) who were either seeing a primary care provider for wounds or going outside this area for their wounds (to be treated),” said Brick, citing local market analysis. “That’s pretty substantial.”
And 15 percent of the total population in the country, notably those with diabetes, typically end up getting an ulcer of some sort, said Hull.
“It is a big need,” she said.
Diabetes, specifically, tends to cause complications, including losing sensation in extremities such as the feet, which can often lead to extreme wounds. Where something like a pebble in the shoe may cause someone without diabetes to fish it out quickly, a diabetic patient who does not feel the sharp sensation may leave it only to keep stepping on it.
“They might wear that shoe every day and not realize it until they look at their toe and it’s an open, horrible wound,” said Brick. “We try to prevent that to begin with by good teaching, but when a patient gets that wound, that’s when the Wound Center comes into play in helping to heal that wound.”
Along with healing patients, the Wound Care Center’s goal is to avoid amputations. In order to do that, referrals to the center as soon as possible are key, so those small cuts do not turn into deep wounds and internal problems.
While pressure and diabetic ulcers are the most common, the Wound Care Center will treat trauma wounds and radiation injuries, common for cancer patients.
“It’s very comprehensive,” said Hull.
But it is not expected to take the place of primary physicians.
“Our goal is not to become a primary care center,” said Hull. “We want patients and physicians to know … we’re here to heal the wound and send them back to you. We provide progress notes, photographs, very detailed information as to what our physicians are doing to heal those patients.”
Hull, previously the program director for the Fayetteville Wound Care Center, said two hyperbaric chambers is typical for a Wound Care Center in this area, however Sampson’s setup is “much, much better.”
“We have one stretcher room in Fayetteville, whereas here we can fit them in any room. In a community like this, with three large nursing homes, that’s something that’s really important. We need to be able to see those patients without having a traffic jam.”
Brick praised the Sampson Regional Board of Directors for their support of the Wound Care Center, which Hull and hospital officials promised would prove a beneficial service to Clinton and Sampson County.
“There’s no need for patients to drive an hour,” said Hull, “when they can get the same kind of expert care right here in Clinton.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.