McVicker looks to help turn around struggling McDuffie Regional hospital

Sandra McVicker, the interim CEO of McDuffie Regional Medical Center, stands in one of the outdated patient rooms. University Hospital wants to build a replacement hospital for McDuffie Regional while McVicker is trying to increase volumes and control costs in the old facility.

THOMSON — Sandra McVicker can stand in a hallway at McDuffie Regional Medical Center and see where the old and new parts of the hospital meet, just from the difference in the carpets. Officials are hoping her appointment as Interim CEO will mark a similar turning point.


Two months into the job, McVicker said she is still tackling the financial reports for the struggling 25-bed hospital in Thomson, which is in the process of being acquired by University Hospital. The Georgia Attorney General’s office will decide within a month whether to approve the sale.

A big piece of that deal is University building a $25 million to 30 million replacement hospital, miles from the downtown campus, just north of Interstate 20, which would be “very visible” from major roads because it is also on an elevated site, University CEO Jim Davis said. University will bear all the costs of the new hospital.

The current building, parts of which are 60 years old, looks its age, with some sections featuring worn linoleum floors and patient rooms that, while neat and clean, appear antiquated. Those rooms are one reason there has to be a new building, Davis said.

“The in-patient rooms are just beyond renovation,” he said. The Family Y is considering leasing part of the building for expansion, but for the oldest part, “that has to come down,” Davis said.

The newest wing of the building, which is about 10 years old, will be considered for providing outpatient medical services and perhaps something that would fit with the Y’s activities, such as rehab services, officials said.

The building is only part of the problem the hospital has faced as patient volume fell sharply in the past few years. Net patient revenue fell by $2.4 million while some expenses increased, with the hospital losing $2.2 million in 2011 and projected to lose $3 million in the current fiscal year if trends continue, said Ian C.W. Briggs with FTI Consulting Corp., who was hired to help the Hospital Authority of McDuffie County analyze offers. Last October, the board had to dip into reserves for $500,000 and again in January for another $660,000, said William Doupé, the authority’s chairman.

“The scary thing is, it is accelerating,” he said.

Part of the problem is that as patient volumes fell — the average number of patients in the hospital is barely more than eight a day — staffing was not adjusted, something that is now being corrected. The level of sickness with those patients also did not justify the higher staffing levels, McVicker said.

The hospital operates much the way a Critical Access Hospital would, with a smaller number of beds, limited in-patient services and an emergency room. But it cannot qualify for that status and its increased payments because it is too close to the nearest acute care hospital, Doctors Hospital, though just by a few miles, McVicker said.

It relies on an orthopedic surgeon, a general surgeon, a visiting ophthalmologist and its primary care physicians and emergency room to help fill its beds. The hospital also serves nine nursing homes. While building on those strengths, an affiliation with University would allow the hospital access to other subspecialties, such as cardiology, McVicker said.

“Being a part of University, the great thing is, we’re going to be able to get cardiology services here and set up clinics and those kinds of things,” she said. “It is really going to support our patients.”

Perhaps the biggest thing McDuffie Regional has going for it is the dedicated staff and the level of support in the community, McVicker said.

“It is a community that is very, very interested and a part of what is going on with this hospital, which I think is important,” she said. “They really believe in having their facility here, their hospital. They are very attuned to what is going on in the hospital. And having that feedback, whether positive or negative, is very important to what we need to do.”


Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this article.

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