A lot is happening this year at Highlands Regional Medical Center. The 126-bed comprehensive care hospital located at the corner of Highlands Avenue and U.S. 27 in Sebring is undergoing renovations and upgrading programs and equipment, all while having been acquired by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc.
"The acquisition has been finalized," HRMC interim CEO Robert Palussek confirmed. "We are very excited to be affiliated with CHS. It is one of the nation's largest and leading operators of general, acute care hospitals. The organization is affiliated with - owns, operates or leases - 206 hospitals in 29 states with approximately 31,000 licensed beds."
"The transition has been going very well for Highlands Regional," Palussek said. "There has been absolutely no impact on patient care. We have not missed a beat."
Palussek took over as Highlands Regional's interim CEO Jan. 27 after the former CEO, Brian Hess, transferred within the CHS system to Venice Regional Medical Center.
"In 2015, we will be celebrating 50 years as Highlands County's hometown hospital," said Palussek of the full-service facility that offers primary care, a cancer center, a women's health center, a senior-friendly emergency room, a state-of-the-art interventional cardiology program and a separate wound care center with two hyperbaric chambers.
"We are going through the planning process to add a third (hyperbaric chamber). There is a big demand for that service," Palussek said.
Located at 7200 S. George Blvd., Highlands Regional Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center is an outpatient facility that was recognized this past year by Healogics as one of their top wound-care facilities in the Southeast region.
Staff changes and program expansions mean that recruitment is under way for positions at Highlands Regional.
The hospital is currently interviewing for a marketing director, a position vacated when Julie Fells left to take a job at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
"We want to continue to grow our Highlands Medical Group and add additional primary care providers," Palussek said.
The hospital's interventional and diagnostic cardiology programs plan to hire and train a second Cardiac Cath team and have added a new C-Arm imaging unit for use in the Cath Lab and the Vascular Cardiac Hybrid operating room.
"The goal for 2014 is to have two teams. We are adding people, and our staff are going through the 500-hour training requirement as we speak," he said.
Since November 2013, the hospital's DaVinci robotic surgical program has been offering single-site operations performed by general surgeons Thomas Lackey and Clyde Vanterpool.
"That is a big deal. There is less pain, less infection risk, it is cosmetically more sensitive, less bleeding and faster recovery time," Palussek said.
Another project that has received positive feedback from patients is the hospital's second-floor Medical-Surgical Unit recent renovations. Patient rooms have been converted to private units with a more at-home decor, featuring comfortable seating and wall cabinets that conceal hospital equipment. The face lift also included paint and new wood grain flooring.
"We have received amazing feedback. It really helps the overall caring and healing process to the patients, adding a calm environment," Palussek said.
Similar renovations on the hospital's third floor will begin this summer and are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
"Another thing: We are continuing to work on our ER turn-around times. The last thing you want to do is arrive at the hospital and have to wait," Palussek said. "That has been one of our top priorities, and we have continued to improve this last year."
Current wait times are posted on the main page of the hospital's website, www.highlandsregional .com.
A new service being provided for Highlands Regional patients is assistance registering for the Affordable Care Act.
Information or help signing up for the new mandated insurance will be available at the patient registration area as of today.
"Obviously, it will provide more access to health care services for more people," Palussek said. "We are in the process of implementing a health insurance marketplace registration office here.
"Our financial counselors have gone through training to become certified application counselors."
This year has brought another benchmark for the award-winning medical facility when Highlands Regional earned the distinction of being one of only 182 hospitals in the country to be recognized three years in a row by the Joint Commission, the leading accreditor of health care organizations in the United States, as a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures for excellence in attaining and sustaining accountability measure performances.
"Our top priorities are always and will always be patients and continually delivering superior health care services while creating a fully satisfying patient experience," Palussek said.