Stating that “the state of health care in Cullman is excellent”, Dr. William Smith, Chief Medical Officer of Cullman Regional, discussed the new services and facilities at the medical center during a community luncheon of the Chamber of Commerce of the Cullman area on February 18.
With the COVID-19 pandemic remaining a significant health threat, Smith said advanced actions have positioned Cullman County to better respond to variations in the disease.
“It’s a little different disease than it was a year ago, and everyone is fed up with COVID,” Smith said. “But from the start, we have been very proactive in driving our response in reaction to the pandemic. We bought extra fans and rented extra fans, and always managed to stay ahead of our needs. We have never been without ventilators or necessary equipment.
“We were one of the first sites in the state to provide monoclonal antibody infusions. It was a tremendous asset in helping people get out of the hospital and out of the intensive care unit.
The advanced planning also placed Cullman Regional as an early adopter in the state for a vaccine schedule, Smith said.
“We were one of 13 hospitals in Alabama to receive the vaccine for the first time,” he said. “It was the Pfizer vaccine, and it has to be kept frozen. Our team was one of the few who had the foresight to purchase the necessary ultra-cold freezer before they even knew a vaccine would be available.
Still, Smith noted that the medical facility has had more than 1,500 COVID admissions and “nearly 300 deaths,” but said that as a facility and community, “we’re in a much better place than he is.” a year ago.”
With an immunization rate among facility providers over 95%, Smith noted that the pandemic was being taken “very seriously,” although “it has been difficult to overcome the inherent mistrust (of some in the general population ) that everyone understands. But our employees have embraced the (new) technologies. They saw the downsides of not being proactive.
During the pandemic, Cullman Regional administered more than 37,000 vaccines and 2,272 monoclonal antibody infusions.
“All in all, we’ve come to this point in the pandemic, well,” Smith said. “I think COVID will always be with us to some extent, but where we are now is much more tolerable than with Delta’s push in the past.”
“Cullman Regional’s response to quality isn’t just in the area of COVID,” Smith said. “We have added a lot of new equipment to the hospital over the past two years.”
Highlighting BrainScope’s non-invasive, exposure-free radiation, Smith said the new technology has reduced the need for CT scans by 30%. The machine, which can assess patients for brain bleeds and concussions without radiation exposure, is particularly useful during football season for athletes at risk of multiple brain injuries.
“I understand that we’re the only hospital in Alabama currently using it,” Smith said.
Other new equipment at the facility includes advanced imaging technology devices, a Mako robotic arm-assisted system to aid orthopedic surgeons, a Da Vinci robotic surgery system using minimally invasive technology in the areas of gynecology, urology, thoracic and general surgery, and a 3D mammography system to improve diagnostic accuracy.
Centers of Excellence
Cullman Regional also created two Centers of Excellence in 2021 to improve local health care, Smith said.
A center, based on orthopedics and the spine, advances the need for complicated surgeries and tests; and the other, a bariatric center, improves the results of successful weight loss surgery.
While other rural hospital systems are in poor economic shape, Smith said Cullman Regional is not only profitable, but able to give back because of this position.
“Eighty percent of rural Alabama hospitals currently have a negative operating margin,” Smith said, “and while 14 Alabama hospitals recently closed, we at Cullman Regional posted a positive operating margin over the past seven years.
“It really created the financial strength that allowed us to provide over $1.7 million in charitable care. We have invested more than $90 million in hospital establishments and have had more than $300 million in local economic spinoffs.
Expansion of facilities
Part of that investment will go toward upgrading the medical facility’s emergency rooms, Smith said.
“The expansion of our facilities enhances the expansion of our services,” he said.
The Cullman Regional ER expansion project is expected to be completed this summer and will increase department capacity by 80%. A second expansion project was launched in January, which will increase bed capacity from 145 to 175, including 13 new beds in intensive care units.