A change in the management model at The Wound Care Center at Northern Hospital has resulted in the end of one treatment available for patients, but hospital officials say the vast majority of patients will see no impact on their treatments.
Bill James, chief executive officer of Northern Hospital, confirmed on Tuesday that as of Sept. 10, the center was “reorganized,” resulting in the end of hyperbaric chamber treatments in Mount Airy.
James said the decision to make the change was the result of both financial and staffing issues.
“The impetus for the change consisted of two things,” he said. “One was the overall approach to the care. Because of insurance requirements, to be able to use a hyperbaric chamber, which was only used by about 10 percent of the patients, a physician must be physically present in the center and that’s a pretty big deal because it’s hard to have that much extra resources available where there’s a doctor there just in case.
“That’s an expensive and impractical resource,” James added.
Patients who were using the hyperbaric chamber as part of their wound care protocol completed their course of treatment in July, and there are multiple hyperbaric chambers in Winston-Salem.
“That care is very expensive, and some third parties (like N.C. Medicaid) don’t cover it,” he said. “It’s also very expensive for the patient who has to pay a co-pay for each visit, which can involve 40 to 50 treatments during a course of therapy and we found that many of those who needed it just couldn’t afford it.”
The second factor involves the management model itself, according to the CEO.
“We were using an outside company to be able to offer hyperbaric treatments, and as we stepped away from that relationship we brought (wound care services) back in-house,” he said.
Now the Wound Care Center is being staffed by employees of Northern Rehab, under the leadership of Wound Care Specialist and Doctor of Physical Therapy Doug Yarboro.
James said patients were minimally affected by the change.
“(The Wound Care Center) is still a department of the hospital, and much of the same staff is still there, although they’re working for the hospital instead of the third party,” he said, acknowledging that a handful of nurses are no longer employed at the center. “But now the physical therapy staff and their assistants are taking their place.”
James said the changes came about because of financial considerations, but reiterated the lack of physicians interested in working at the center also played into the decision.
“Anything that involves people who are scarce, like physicians, becomes a financial issue,” he said. “But practically speaking, it was hard to get and keep them there. We’ve sought them out and gotten support from several doctors, but they found that it was time-intensive and kept them away from their own practices. They simply couldn’t be at two places at the same time and we were running out of (doctors) to turn to.”
A letter sent to both physicians who refer patients to the center, and patients themselves, gave them plenty of time to prepare for the changes, James said.
“All the patients and the people who send the patients to us have been communicated with well in advance,” he said. “There was no surprise there. Would we prefer things to not change? Certainly. But we’re here for them as we’ve always been.
“This is just a different way of coming at it.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.