In a sign that medical care in Lea County is improving, Lea Regional Medical Center reports that emergency room visits result in almost 40 percent fewer transfers to larger city hospitals than last year.
“Our goal in the last several years has been to increase our local services so we can decrease people having to leave our community for good health care,” LRMC CEO Tim Thornell explained.
Using data from January through September this year and comparing it to the same period of 2016, Thornell said, “The way I look at it, rather than reduction of transfers out, I look at it as this is an increase in the number of patients we’ve been able to keep locally.”
He said it would be impossible to estimate how many Lea County dollars are staying here due to recent changes, but he estimated roughly $1 million has been saved on transportation costs along and he has 13 more people on staff to perform services previously unavailable at LRMC.
In the past, and to some extent still in the present, a patient would come to the emergency room with a condition that required transportation to larger medical facilities in Lubbock or Midland/Odessa.
At LRMC, a study of why patients were being sent away when their primary treatment could be performed locally resulted a year ago in establishing a method of providing dialysis in the hospital for patients with other issues.
“We started that in October of last year. The community has long enjoyed out-patient dialysis through other groups, but we have not, anywhere in Lea County, been able to do in-patient dialysis,” Thornell said.
He explained the difference is most dialysis patients have a routine such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday. “They go in, get it done and leave,” he said.
“In-patient dialysis has to do with what we’ve found is frequently something else, like pneumonia,” Thornell said. “So they’re going to be admitted to the hospital, but they’re still needing dialysis while they’re here. No one around here did it before.”
LRMC discovered that patients had to go somewhere else outside the community to be treated for pneumonia when that could have been done locally.
“So, as we sifted through the data, we looked for a common denominator of patients leaving our community for pneumonia that we could treat, for a broken leg that we could treat, for anything else that we could treat,” he said. “The common denominator really was they also had to be on dialysis. Once we realized that, we worked with Fresenius (Dialysis Center) and now we offer in-patient dialysis here. We’ve been able to retain quite a few patients. It’s been fantastic.”
The second component contributing to LRMC’s ability to “increase the number of patients we’ve been able to keep locally” is interventional cardiology.
“We have our two new interventional cardiologists,” Thornell said. “We launched that program in January. By March, they were staffing and manning any patients that come into the ER with real life heart attacks.
“We used to do a great job of stabilizing them and then having to transfer them out to a higher level of care, but now we can manage the vast majority of those here, right here in our hospital. Instead of transferring them out, they go 30 seconds down the hallway to our cath lab.”
LRMC determined in its study the primary reason for transferring patients from the local facility was for a higher level care related to cardiac services. Therefore, that’s what LRMC decided to address, the reason for opening up a cath lab and bringing in our two interventional cardiologists, Thornell said.
“Really, the bulk of this progress has been made by those two initiatives, being able to keep patients on dialysis here and being able to keep patients with significant cardiac issues up to and including having a heart attack, and save their lives right here at home in Hobbs,” he added.
That progress, however, didn’t come without some concern and the need to encourage local residents to use the new services.
“It’s a two-way street. Inasmuch as we work hard to bring more services here, the community has to work hard to use those services so they stay here. We could bring stuff here all day long, but if nobody uses it, it’s not going to stay,” Thornell concluded. “That’s true of anything. You open up a new restaurant and if nobody wants to go there, it’s not going to stay open very long.”
Curtis Wynne may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.