With attention rightly focused on Covid-19, local residents might think treating those who become seriously ill with the virus is the only thing going on at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center.
Charla Rowley, in her second year as CEO of Southwest Health System, made it clear this week that plenty of other medical plans are in the works. The hospital is bringing in new doctors, upgrading its buildings and looking ahead to figure out what else it can do to provide better medical care to its patients.
Rowley, speaking to the McComb Rotary Club, became the 52-year-old hospital’s third leader in February 2020 — just before the coronavirus arrived. In the ensuing 18 months, she and her staff have dealt with the pandemic, the 2020 tornado, last February’s ice storm and now Hurricane Ida.
“We’ve definitely had our share of challenges,” she observed.
She specifically discussed things going on at the hospital other than the pandemic. Good idea: Hospital officials are regularly quoted in the newspaper and on social media discussing the number of local Covid-19 patients, or encouraging people to get vaccinated. Anybody who wants that information can find it easily.
The things Rowley talked about are less widely known, but will have an impact on local medical care long after the virus is behind us.
Southwest has recruited several new specialists. An orthopedist arrived last year, and a urologist opened his practice this year. Another obstetrician-gynecologist is scheduled to arrive in October, and an internal medicine specialist has agreed to come to McComb in 2022.
Meanwhile, Rowley said, a neurology group from Covington, La., opened a clinic this month in the Medical Arts Building, which the hospital now owns. She added the clinic already is considering adding a second neurologist due to a high level of appointments.
Southwest has also ended its contract with the company that employed the emergency room’s five physicians and has made those doctors part of its staff — eliminating the middleman, as Rowley put it.
Finally, Dr. Daniel Boone agreed to move his family practice to Monticello, where Southwest operates Lawrence County’s critical-access hospital.
Rowley said Southwest has added a remote patient monitoring service for people with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart trouble, weight problems, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
An upcoming residency program may be the most interesting development, as it could help Southwest recruit Mississippi physicians. Rowley said Southwest will host six residents per year from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and William Carey University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Ultimately McComb will have 18 medical school residents each year.
As for building improvements, the most noticeable changes will be at the Medical Arts Building, two blocks away from the hospital on Rawls Drive.
The building eventually will be home to what Rowley called “a complete, one-stop outpatient area,” with a number of specialty practices moving there because of the building’s size and the ample parking available all around it.
The exterior also will get a significant upgrade from the look it’s had for about 50 years.
At the main hospital, visible changes include enlarging the main entrance lobby and relocating the elevator entrances to face the lobby. Upgrades to the emergency room and the ambulatory center are being planned.
For extreme weather emergencies, Southwest also is improving its backup generators and water systems.
Rowley’s only mention of Covid-19 came when a Rotary member asked about vaccinations among the hospital staff. She said 40% have had the shots, which is a lot fewer than desired.
“We’ve done everything we can to encourage them,” she added.
It was a good presentation. The virus certainly has affected Southwest’s operations, but it’s clear the hospital is not standing still. It’s one more reason to look forward to the day things return to normal.