Town needs a plan for AGH

Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 4:43 p.m.
I have been a member of the medical staff at Alachua General Hospital for
over 20 years and am proud of it. Having attended over 7,000 patient admissions, I have never had any qualms regarding the care provided to those who trust me.
I have been chief of medical operations, chairman of the credentialing committee, chairman of the quality assurance committee, chairman of the department of medicine, and have served over a decade on the medical operations committee.
I consider those volunteer endeavors to have been worthwhile.
With five other physicians, I drafted the medical staff bylaws, which merged the Shands and AGH medical staff. I consider that to have been a beneficial exercise. I was a charter member of the conjoint medical operations committee for Shands and AGH, and served for six years.
I missed many nights away from home, but felt we were developing a system that would serve our patients and community to a higher standard of medical care.
Over these years of practice, the facility has had three owners and multiple CEOs and hospital administrators. I couldn't even begin to name them all.
My long-term colleagues and I, with the care provided by an incredibly competent and devoted nursing staff, have continued our work while transcending shifting institutional strategic plans or corporate philosophy.
We get up each morning and do the best we can for our patients, depending on each other to provide expertise in every given discipline.
In spite of speculative stories to the contrary, the facility works quite well. It is a full-service hospital offering primary, secondary and tertiary levels of care. There is a neonatal nursery to support both the labor and delivery unit, as well as the nursery at Shands.
The medical staff is composed of University of Florida faculty and private physicians who seamlessly work together.
Represented from both the private and UF faculty side are ophthalmology, general surgery, urology, plastic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, radiology, radiation oncology, anesthesiology, pathology, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology and cardiology.
The Family Practice Residency Program is based at AGH, so its faculty practices out of the facility. There is also a faculty group of hospitalists.
Recruitment for new physicians comes from both the private and UF side. Within the past year, at least one new physician from cardiology, neurology, pulmonology, orthopedic surgery, urology and internal medicine has joined the staff from the private side.
Expansions have also occurred on the faculty side. We share equipment with Shands at UF, transporting patients between facilities when specialized needs arise. We also share information systems allowing as-needed, real-time subspecialty consultation.
The facility is filled to capacity with patients. Nurse staffing has, in part, limited further bed occupancy. A number of new graduates and experienced nurses have been recruited. AGH will soon have a nurse recruiter located in the facility to further expedite the process.
The present nursing staff is dedicated to providing excellent care to patients coming from a community they enjoy serving. Shands at UF is a magnet program for nursing.
This program is to be expanded to AGH to make employment more desirable. We serve as a training site for the nursing program at the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College.
AGH is also a Planetree Affiliate Hospital. This international organization stresses humanistic care of hospitalized patients. Seminars are given for all employees about the program, and the expectations for patient care implicit in the membership. We are the only affiliate in the southeastern United States.
Medical students spend time with both the Family Practice Residency Program and private physicians, receiving their only exposure to a community hospital in the MD curriculum.
High school and university students can walk or take a bus to the centrally located AGH to volunteer and gain experience in the medical field.
AGH has been unfairly labeled as the community facility for indigent patients. We do serve east Gainesville, which does have its share of indigents; but that is not its primary source of patients. (North Florida serves the rural communities just west of town, which have their share of indigent citizens as well.)
Based on my two decades of practice experience in the facility, we serve the entire county. The stigma attached to east Gainesville is not deserved.
The vast majority of the citizens of east Gainesville are employed or retired individuals, and certainly not medically indigent. As in-town redevelopment continues, this population will grow and will include more students and young families.
AGH has traditionally, and continues to serve, as a regional hospital for communities located north to the Georgia line, past Starke and Keystone Heights to the northeast, past Interlachen to the east, and Ocala to the south. Many of our patients also come from the western counties. The emergency room is the busiest in town.
It continues to amaze me that these assets have not simply led to unequivocal success and recognition. We have had numerous conjoint medical staff conferences, spending hundreds of hours discussing how to proceed with these assets. Most of the plans have been left in drawers.
The source of our problem can be found in the Aesop's Fable regarding the dog, the bone, and the reflection in the river. I would prefer another river analogy: rising water lifts all boats. My simple proposal for success is outlined in a local petition.
Alachua General Hospital has served Gainesville for over 75 years as a full-service hospital. The purchase of the facility by Shands Healthcare introduces great potential to the future of the facility by encompassing the best of both the community and academic environment.
The location of the facility maintains its roots in Gainesville while continuing its role as a regional hospital for the communities located well beyond the boundaries of Alachua County.
Its proximity between downtown Gainesville and the University of Florida makes it a focus of in-town revitalization.
We strongly support collaboration between the University of Florida, the College of Medicine, Shands Healthcare, the city of Gainesville and our community physicians in bringing Alachua General Hospital and our local community to its next level of accomplishment.
This effort should begin in earnest. We have had many internal conferences, and I know for a fact that the entire infrastructure is in place. It is time to move forward with a plan that inspires cooperation and ensures stability.
I hope never to see another speculative article in the paper that is spawned in a vacuum of information and direction.
The next article should be about three lines long describing this wonderful facility, which is the model of cooperation between an esteemed medical center and its community hospital, demonstrating efficiency, competence and compassion in the delivery of cutting-edge medical care.
It is all here, and it is long past time to launch this rocket.

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