Health Connect South Collaborative Agenda Addresses Contemporaneous and Future Health Advancement

John Tabellione

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

The 8th Annual Health Connect South gathering, a virtual collaboration conference scheduled for September 23, 2021, features a day-long agenda of informative panels comprised of several dozen experts and leaders, who serve the health community. 

For example, participants for one panel entitled, “Executive Insights – Leading Community Based Healthcare” include J. Scott Steiner, FACHE, President and CEO for Phoebe Putney Health System; Delvecchio Finley, President and CEO of Atrium Health Navicent; Angela Ammons, CEO, Clinch Memorial Hospital, and session facilitator, Matt Reed, Owner, CEO of particular panel will elaborate upon the following key issues and topics.

Critical Issues Facing Healthcare Today

As Russ Lipari, Founder and CEO of Health Connect South states, "As we have all experienced, this has been the most pronounced time that we have relied on our health infrastructure during any of our lifetimes." Lipari adds, "We all count on our health systems to be there when we need them in times of crisis. I think our entire community is in awe of the sustained effort being provided by those that make up the fabric of our health community. They have been there when we have needed them most."

Among the most critical issues challenging healthcare today—the nursing shortage Georgia has been facing for years—COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue. The growing need for critical healthcare workers, talent acquisition, and retention remains a focus, according to Finley.

As Steiner confirms, “Phoebe’s strong commitment to workforce development not only helps our organization address the shortage of nurses and other healthcare professionals facing hospitals across the country, but it also benefits our area’s economy. Our investments with educational partners throughout our region allow them to expand or start new nurse training programs as early as the high school level. These partnerships encourage students to pursue careers in healthcare from an early age, while also providing a pipeline of well-trained employees who enter our health system prepared to serve the healthcare needs of the people of southwest Georgia.”

Likewise, Atrium Health Navicent has been developing strategies to address the situation, such as, how to identify critical jobs (present and future), ways to enhance educational institution relationships, determine which schools to map to departments and jobs, how to establish specific understandings and guarantees, as well as efforts to develop alumni (retiree) relationships.

Furthermore, Finley attributes the root causes of today’s issues to “the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 across our area, the state, and beyond.” He also lists capacity constraints in EDs, hospitals, ICUs and other care settings of predominantly unvaccinated citizens suffering from Covid Care delays and access constraints for non-Covid related care. “Workforce shortages, caregiver burnout and fatigue have reached new levels.”

Finely adds that local health inequities complicate matters, such as the disproportionate burden of chronic and acute conditions that are endemic to some communities across their area and state, especially rural, socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, and many communities predominantly comprised of people of color. 

Angela Ammons at Clinch Memorial observes, “Unprecedented is a word that probably has met its max for usage during this last year of the pandemic, but, unfortunately, it’s the most fitting, as  It seems like each week has brought us a new opportunity to use that word to describe whatever scenario we found ourselves in. Providing rural healthcare is challenging enough without battling a novel virus, but it has given Critical Access and other Rural Hospitals the opportunity to validate the need for our existence, highlight the grit, determination and dedication of our hospital staff and has allowed us to foster innovation and partnerships that otherwise would not have existed. We will not survive if we continue to silo ourselves away from other hospitals, both large and small. It is important that we each create a niche for ourselves by discovering what we do best in our facility, refining that process,  then partnering and sharing this information with other facilities, so that we can all find a place where we ‘fit’ and can be successful.” 

She no longer views other hospitals as competition, but believes that, to grow, each must need to be as transparent and vulnerable as possible with others because there is a place for each of us if we work together. Ammons adds, “I constantly network to meet superstars in the in the healthcare world so that I can learn from them. Without these friendships and sharing of ideas, CMH would not be where we are today. We have grown so much because of others willing to share ideas, their expertise, or a listening ear when things get rough, and we are dedicated to paying that practice forward whenever the occasion arises.”

Importance of Innovations and Technology 

Steiner notes the importance of Phoebe Putney’s investment in innovations and technology, which have had a significant impact to the firm. 

“Before COVID, Phoebe invested $5.3 million in a state-of-the art Simulation & Innovation Center that is as fine a facility of its kind as you will find on any hospital campus.  When it opened in the early months of the pandemic, it hosted our Nursing Simulation and Training Education Program (NSTEP). We designed this unique program to support new graduate nurses who were unable to complete their hands-on, clinical training because of COVID restrictions.  The offerings in our Simulation & Innovation Center have only expanded since then, as we cultivate supplemental learning and provide didactic training and skills assessments as part of our pledge always to put safety first.”

Finley states, “Virtual Health/Telehealth offers a COVID-safe alternative…and has allowed Atrium Health Navicent to offer expanded services linking pediatric patients, their families, and physicians to infectious disease experts in North Carolina through our Pediatric Infectious Disease Consultation program. In addition, AHN is able to “offer behavioral health visits from the convenience of a patient’s primary physician’s office through our Virtual Behavioral Health Initiative.” The platform since 2021 also allows them to “expand the reach of Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital through in-person and virtual services at Phoebe in Southwest Georgia. “We’re excited to have this new tool at the ready, and to have had an opportunity to hone it to best serve patients,” notes Finley.

The “My Atrium Health” app and web portal streamlines the patient experience via computer, tablet, or smartphone. It provides access to easy-to-use digital applications to help patients schedule appointments, start video and e-Visits, request prescription refills, view test results, and more.

In 2018 Clinch Memorial made a brave move to invest heavily in a swing bed program for patients who required long term ventilators. As Ammons put it, “This was quite a stretch both financially and skill-wise for our hospital and staff. We were on the verge of closure and had to try something different. Little did we know…it would also prepare us for an unforeseen pandemic that was respiratory in nature.”

CMH also invested in telehealth equipment to expand their service area, partnered with the Autism Speaks Network, and allowed their local CSB to utilize office space for behavioral health sessions. They wanted to reduce the stigma associated with mental health treatment and thought there would be more compliance if people could seek their treatment in an office, that, on the outside, appeared to be a generic doctor’s office. Also, CMH established a med stabilization program to assist patients who have symptoms related to withdrawal from alcohol and narcotics. 

Access to Care

Another critical topic that will be addressed during this agenda item is access to care, especially in more rural communities, where there may be desperate needs, but untenable limiting of elective procedures. Likewise, the crowded conditions, such as no ICU beds, often require a healthcare facility to divert patients and seek cooperation with others. The panel will offer ideas such as collaborative partnerships, as well as options in the realm of building and capacity expansion. pastedGraphic.png

“Waiting for patients to come to us when they need care simply isn’t good enough, particularly in an area with significant poverty such as Southwest Georgia,” says Steiner.

Given the great disparities that exist among rural communities in Southwest Georgia, endemic, societal problems adversely impact their ability to access primary, specialty, and preventive healthcare. So, to improve access, Phoebe Putney invested in two Mobile Wellness Clinics equipped with exam rooms, lab capabilities, medical refrigeration, telehealth technology, as well as wheelchair accessibility. The mobile units allow them to take healthcare providers directly to rural communities and underserved neighborhoods.

According to Steiner, “These units have been crucial in the fight against COVID. We have held 86 mobile vaccination events in the last 60 days and have given almost 3,000 COVID vaccines to rural communities.”

Also, adds Finley, “Through a Virtual affiliation with Phoebe, Atrium Health Navicent Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital is expanding care offerings for pediatric patients in Southwest Georgia, allowing patients to receive care closer to home. The affiliation gives Phoebe physicians and pediatric patients access to expanded services, including virtual and in-person pediatric specialty consultations with AHN physicians, and the most advanced pediatric diagnostics available, along with the latest state-of-the-art medical treatments close to home. AHN specialists see patients in-person at Phoebe and also provide telehealth services for outpatient and follow-up care. Our surgeons, neurologists, hematologist/oncologists and endocrinologists regularly visit the Phoebe Pediatric Specialty Clinic to ensure pediatric patients are getting the follow-up and ongoing care management they need.”

Clinch Memorial has partnered with coalitions in Ware and Jeff Davis Counties and Clinch County residents will soon have a satellite Family Practice office by October in nearby Fargo, Georgia. It will provide access to CMH physicians, make it convenient to drop off medications from its new retail pharmacy, and provide pop-up testing and vaccine clinics to the more rural and impoverished areas during the pandemic.

In summary, Lipari explains, "We are excited that Health Connect South has the opportunity to continue our mission to serve the health community as a platform to promote regional health collaborations."

To register for the Health Connect South gathering, please click here. HCS’ collective work seeks to define and advance the Southeast’s role in the future of health. Serving as a gateway between health industry silos, it facilitates unique and meaningful partnerships. Together, health advances.


About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.