Starting the New Year with a new knee

By: Ken Shull

Yes, I did it again. I went back into St. Luke's Hospital to have a second knee replacement. Just three weeks out from this surgery, I was walking the hallways, though slowly and using the support of a cane, to round on various hospital departments. I'm still icing my knee when I'm working at my computer, and I continue to tell everyone who will listen that, once again, I had a fantastic experience as a patient at our community hospital. Why would I go anywhere else?

That's a good question - Why drive out of this beautiful community when St. Luke's Hospital provides the necessary services a family might need? As a federally designated "Critical Access Hospital," St. Luke's provides all the critical services needed in a rural community, but then we offer so very much more.

Admittedly I'm a bit prejudiced, and with full disclosure, I am the CEO at St. Luke's, but I've personally experienced outstanding service and exceptional care in the peaceful, pristine setting that defines our little hospital. I believe that few hospitals this size can compare to the services and the exceptional care St. Luke's provides. That's a broad statement that I can prove-we measure and benchmark and follow best practices, and we have been recognized by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), by The Joint Commission (TJC), by Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) and most importantly, by our patients (Press Ganey).

This New Year is a good time to remind our community that despite our size (35 beds), St. Luke's Hospital provides a wide range of services we are proud to offer our friends and neighbors. And we're extremely proud of our outcomes and quality measures, of our patients' satisfaction and family involvement in their loved ones' hospital experience.

Our range of services includes 24/7 emergency care with EMS and helicopter access to a higher level of trauma care if needed; all digital imaging services including MRI, bone densitometry, CT scans and ultrasounds, MRI, nuclear medicine, general fluoroscopy and the latest, greatest Mammography Sensory Suite; perioperative services, a full service Lab, mental health care and senior services. Another highly rated service available at St. Luke's is the advanced care and treatment for orthopedic issues, including surgery and rehab.

Today's column will focus on Orthopedics and Joint Replacements because this topic recently made news. An article in the Wall Street Journal indicated that critical access hospitals should provide only necessary services which, to the writer of that article, does not include joint replacements.

Considering I just had a joint replacement at a critical access hospital (CAH), I read the article with great interest-several times. I believe if the writer had contacted me as a source, he'd soon agree that St. Luke's Hospital is a bit different from the average critical access hospital.

It has always been our belief that St. Luke's provides a great service, and if we can't provide a service as well or better than other, bigger hospitals, then it's in our patients' best interest to refer or recommend another facility. (I apologize to expectant moms in the area, but the demographics of this community don't allow us to perform enough deliveries to be proficient in obstetrics. Please come back after your baby arrives; Polk County has great family physicians who love to manage pediatric care!)

Back to the Wall Street Journal. The article stated that the average critical access hospital performing inpatient joint replacements in 2013 did about 26 that year. I would agree that 26 joint replacement procedures is not enough to be proficient. However, at St. Luke's in 2013, 260 people came for joint replacement surgery. In 2014, 267 joint replacements were performed at St. Luke's, and by the end of 2015, 303 total joint surgeries were performed at St. Luke's to help people like me who were suffering from illness or injury.

While those numbers are impressive, here's even better news. Our Infection Preventionist reports we had zero knee infections in 2015, and zero post-op deaths or post-op blood clots among our joint patients since July 2013.

How do we do this so well? Working closely with Dr. Brian Rosenberg and his staff at Rosenberg Bone and Joint, St. Luke's Hospital has a very dedicated ortho team in surgery, nursing and rehab. Patients are choosing St. Luke's because we have the latest equipment in the Operating Suite and a new, six-bed patient care wing that is focused on orthopedic care. We have an outstanding Rehab Center to provide one-on-one therapy with a licensed professional, and we have advanced techniques and protocols to manage post-op pain following minimally invasive procedures to reduce risks of infection. From Surgery to Nursing and Rehab Therapy, each team member is focused on safety and positive outcomes for each patient. And if more time is needed for recovery, we can "swing" our patients, providing a longer hospitalization with care from the same staff.

Once a patient and his doctor determine joint replacement surgery is their last resort for relief and mobility, each must undergo stringent medical and dental clearance with a medical specialist, participate in a well-coordinated Joint Camp to prepare and empower patients in their recovery, and learn pre and post op therapeutic exercises to improve function.

From personal experience, I can assure readers that St. Luke's Hospital excels in orthopedics, and yes, this service is as critical to our community as it is to the hospital's bottom line. As a critical access hospital (CAH), St. Luke's does receive a better payment from Medicare, but we are also caring for many younger, active people not covered yet by Medicare. And unlike other CAH facilities, St. Luke's does indeed report those same quality measures and infection rates that larger hospitals are mandated to report. You are invited to review www.hospitalcompare.gov for more information.

As always, I invite you to call me (894-3525, ext. 3250) if you have additional questions, concerns and compliments about your community hospital. It's our desire and intent to keep you informed and healthy in the New Year!

St. Luke's Hospital is a private, not-for- profit community hospital that provides critical access to needed medical services. We are committed to providing exceptional care, close to home. Ken Shull is the CEO of St. Luke's and can be reached by calling 828-894-3525 ext. 3250.