A civilian-military health-care alliance recommended by a 2012 Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership study is taking shape, despite not having funding.
Members met Tuesday at the Liberty County Courthouse Annex to discuss area health-care issues and trends as well as the future of the alliance, which has been dubbed the Coastal Healthcare Alliance.
“Everything now is going to the regional concept, and while we may not have been a normal consortium, Liberty, Long, Bryan and Tattnall … our challenge is how we work together as a group to whatever level we can work,” said Donald Lovette, Liberty County Commission chairman and Liberty Regional Medical Center employee.
Lovette has been tapped to lead the alliance. Glennville Mayor Chris Roessler suggested this because there was no quorum to elect officers.
Deputy commander for clinical services Lt. Col. Richard Malish spoke on behalf of Winn Army Community Hospital.
He said Commander Col. Ron Place will depart from Winn in early July, so the hospital is preparing for a leadership transition and facing challenges with patient numbers.
Contrary to enrollment predictions, Winn has seen a decrease in enrolled patients, Malish said. They predicted 62,000 but currently are at 59,000.
“We’ve lost 1,000 active-duty service members as well as 1,000 family members,” he said. “We would like to recapture, as much as possible, our beneficiaries to our system … we’re under quite a bit of scrutiny to increase our patient capacity.”
He estimated there are about 10,000 soldiers deployed. The entire division should be back by October, he said.
As for behavioral health, he said the hospital seems to be doing well and has done some hiring, created behavioral-health teams and can use tele-health options if necessary.
When Lovette pointed out that Fraser Counseling Center representatives Greg Laskoski and Teresa Winn also could provide care, Malish added that Winn serves primarily active-duty soldiers but does send referrals for family members and retirees.
Liberty Regional Medical Center marketing director Rene’ Harwell asked Malish what the hospital attributes as the reason for its decline in patient care.
Malish said overnight admissions are down as many surgeries have become streamlined to reduce overnight stays, but he said Winn also does not have enough internal medicine sub-specialties to attract the patient base it wants.
For example, it does not have a cardiologist, an intensive-care unit, does not take most traumas and recently lost a neurologist, bringing it down to one.
Harwell said those gaps in service drive LRMC’s recruiting efforts to better serve the military population.
However, the conversation indicated that insurance networks sometimes prevent Winn from making referrals directly to LRMC.
News discussed at the meeting was not all negative.
Alliance members touted the value of impending construction of a satellite campus for Armstrong Atlantic State University to be a benefit to the health-care and education systems of all communities within the alliance.
Armstrong College of Health Professions Dean David Ward said the school will have 16 more nursing slots available this fall, bringing the capacity to 96. Under that plan, some students would complete clinical rotations at Liberty Regional Medical Center.
“The real goal there is to do that as a first step, and then down the road, … when the Liberty Center building is up, when we have experience in terms of the clinical rotations and a solid base, I could see a circumstance where we look at a program that recruits students from the area,” Ward said.
If that plan comes to fruition, health-profession students could complete their core coursework at the Liberty Center and finish the classroom components of their final two years at the Savannah campus while holding clinical rotations in Liberty County, he said.
The alliance also discussed the challenges and opportunities with having clinical rotations at Winn. A current challenge is that the hospital already has more nurses than patients, Malish said.
The next meeting of the Coastal Healthcare Alliance will is slated for 1 p.m. May 29 at either the Liberty County Courthouse Annex or the Historic Liberty County Courthouse.