Coastal Voices: Critical Access facility delivers fine hospital care

By Dr. Dana Osborne September 11, 2013 04:45 pm

I have a confession to make — I really enjoy working at a Critical Access Hospital (CAH).

I have been working in Crescent City as a “traveling” surgeon for almost five years. For a change of pace, my agency sent me to Sidney Health Center in Sidney, Mont., almost two years ago. 

My first impressions of the hospital in Sidney were that the facility was well staffed, the operating rooms were well stocked, the equipment was new, and the Emergency Department (ED) was very efficient. It was six months later when I learned it was a Critical Access Hospital.

Before working in Sidney, I was under the impression that a CAH was a veritable ghost town with choppers flying people to “real” hospitals day and night. That’s not true. A Critical Access Hospital is just that — a hospital.

If you come to the ED with pneumonia or appendicitis or a fish hook in your finger, you will get your care at the local hospital … even if it’s a Critical Access Hospital.

Granted, Sidney Health Center does not see the volume of patients that are seen in Sutter Coast Hospital (6,000 ED visits versus 22,000).

The ED in Sidney is staffed with a physician 24/7. There are at least two hospitalists available 24/7. OB, pediatrics, ENT, orthopaedics, and general surgery are available 24/7. There are two operating rooms and an endoscopy suite that are humming during the week. The nurses on the medical ward work in pairs, delivering amazing care to all patients.

The cafeteria is open seven days a week for three meals a day. It is a great place to work, and they (we) take excellent care of patients! If a patient is in need of services unavailable in Sidney or needs a higher level of care, transferring the patient to a tertiary care facility is a flawless process, which begins at the CEO’s desk.

Lines of communication are opened to referral centers by the administration. The physicians don’t have to grovel to ensure patients get the best care possible. I was impressed at how efficiently a patient with severe neurological trauma can get stabilized and transferred from Sidney to a hospital with a neurosurgeon.

When I’m on call in Sidney, Mont., it’s just like being on call at Sutter Coast. My phone rings a lot. I see patients every day and usually operate more days than not. I lose a lot of sleep … much like my call here in Crescent City.

From my standpoint, there is no difference between Sidney and Crescent City. I have a job to do, and I do it. I am the surgeon on call. I’ll do my best to deliver the best medical/surgical care to you or your loved one … whether I am in Montana or California.

I have seen the much-maligned Critical Access Hospital from the inside, and I gladly continue to work there when my schedule allows. I want to tell you this, with the community’s best interest in mind, critical access is not a bad thing!

Yes, Critical Access designation will mean some changes, which is a scary concept for anyone. In my opinion, more good will come from Sutter Coast receiving Critical Access designation than not.

This community deserves the best care possible. Critical Access designation will ensure that Sutter Coast survives and thrives.

I am an active member of the SCH medical staff who has never been present for a “unanimous vote of the medical staff.” 

Dr. Dana Osborne currently resides in Whitefish, Mont.