Nurturing a Healthy Economy

Growing Health Care, StatArea Hospitals Make Capital Investments to Avoid Economic Flat Lining

By Scott Jackson

Along the Emerald Coast, the military and tourism industry heavyweights make a prodigious economic impact, generating just over $5.5 billion per year in Okaloosa County alone.

While the economic effects of the health-care industry are not as formidable, the industry’s importance to the region certainly is. It sustains and ensures the health of all of our industries, literally from cradle to grave.

But faced with a highly diverse population, rising costs and bold new advances in medical technology, the Emerald Coast’s health-care industry faces an endless challenge to provide for the future wellbeing of patients in the region.

The health-care community in Okaloosa and Walton counties comprises five major medical facilities and their staffs. Taken together, they make their presence felt in the region’s economy.

“Combined, these facilities generate over half a billion dollars a year in annual revenue,” said Rick Harper of the University of West Florida’s Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development.

To adapt to the dynamic health-care environment and to ensure that the best care is provided, these medical facilities have embarked on ambitious programs of recruitment, technology, new service centers and new construction to meet patients’ needs throughout the Emerald Coast.

Fort Walton Beach Medical Center

One such facility, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, is in the process of adding a Level II nursery and upgrading its current obstetrics unit. The $3 million construction project will create a new 10-bed, state-of-the-art nursery that will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by board-certified neonatologists and registered nurses trained to care for premature and full-term newborns.

“With the addition of the Level II nursery, parents will no longer have to travel two counties away to another hospital in order to spend time with their baby who has special needs,” said Marian Bach, director of women and children’s services for the medical center. “Now they will be able to stay near their home and have a specialist care for their baby’s special needs.”

Fort Walton Beach Medical Center CEO Wayne Campbell emphasized the point.

“The message we want to send to expecting parents is that you should have peace of mind knowing that with the addition of the Level II nursery, we will be able to provide this level of specialized newborn care right here at home at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center,” he said.
The hospital also is building a $2.7 million electrophysiology lab that will provide a full array of diagnostic and treatment options for patients suffering from heart-rhythm irregularities.

“The addition of electrophysiology services at The Heart Center at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center opens a new chapter in the development of our cardiovascular services for our community,” Campbell said. “Patients with irregular heart rhythms will benefit from these services being provided in a timelier manner, closer to their home, and they no longer will have to deal with the inconvenience of traveling to Escambia or Bay County to be diagnosed and treated for these cardiac-related conditions.”

The hospital recently was recognized by HealthGrades, an independent health-care ratings company, with its 2007 Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence, which acknowledges the top 5 percent of hospitals not affiliated with the federal government for quality performance.

“It’s an honor to have an independent, nationally recognized health-care rating company like HealthGrades confirm that we are achieving our goals and performing at the same level as some of the most prestigious health-care organizations in the country,” Campbell said.

Sacred Heart Hospital

Open since January 2003, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast hit the beaches in full stride. Bolstered by an unprecedented community effort and a land donation by the St. Joe Company, Sacred Heart has continued to move forward with innovative projects to meet patient needs.

In fact, Sacred Heart already has established a due date for its first birth delivery – fall 2007 – at its Family Birth Place, presently under construction. With the backing of a $5 million community support campaign, the Family Birth Place, along with the Olson Women’s Diagnostic Center, forms the hospital’s new Women’s Services project.

“With an increasing number of younger families moving to Okaloosa and Walton counties, we see a growing need in the community for childbirth services,” said Roger Hall, the hospital’s chief executive officer. “We hope the community will continue to support us as we seek to meet the health-care needs of all women – at every stage of a woman’s life.”

The Family Birth Place will house four spacious, private labor-delivery-recovery suites, one private labor-delivery-recovery postpartum suite, six private postpartum suites, a newborn nursery, education classrooms, a family waiting area and additional support services.

The Olson Women’s Diagnostic Center, meanwhile, will feature personalized, coordinated care while conveniently centralizing all screening and diagnostic appointments for breast care, bone health and ultrasounds. A “dedicated patient care navigator” will assist patients with gathering information, organizing appointments and working with physicians, insurers and a support network to make sure patients receive the best possible care in a timely manner. The center is scheduled to open in late spring.

Future plans for the hospital include yet another $5 million campaign for an expansion of its Heart and Vascular Services clinic to address the No. 1 killer of both men and women: heart disease.

The main components of the project include an additional heart catheterization lab and a 64-slice CT scanner to provide the highest quality in cardiac diagnostics. The expanded services will be located on the first floor of the new west wing created by the expansion of Women’s Services.

“Each expansion at the hospital is a tribute to the community for their support, leadership and vision to continually improve access and quality of health care in our region,” Hall said.

Twin Cities Hospital

Things are moving along in Niceville as well. In October 2006, that city’s Twin Cities Hospital opened a $10 million, 18,000-square-foot expansion, adding three new operating rooms and a surgical outpatient facility. The addition gives the hospital a total of six operating rooms, according to CEO David Whalen.

The expansion was designed to serve growing outpatient surgery needs since, according to Whalen, “nationwide, about 70 percent of surgical procedures are done on an outpatient basis.”

In addition, another $4 million renovation to the three existing operating rooms was recently completed.

Twin Cities also has incorporated a physician’s information system called the PatientKeeper, giving physicians easier access to patient information by incorporating easy “one-tap” technology so that they can access and complete patient information from multiple clinical systems via a handheld wireless device.  

“It allows physicians to have up-to-the-minute access to our computer system for lab and radiology reports and everything else from wherever they are,” said Whalen.

In August 2006, Twin Cities Hospital partnered with businesses and Fort Walton Beach Medical Center to establish the Crossroads Center Medical Clinic, which provides free services for eligible low-income, uninsured or underinsured adult residents in Okaloosa County.According to Whalen, statistics for Okaloosa County show that patients could have benefited from having this clinic in approximately 70 percent of emergency-room visits.

In addition, 10 percent of the total population has no health insurance. This number is expected to increase in the future and outpace the growth in total population.

Whalen said he is proud of the commitment of the health-care professionals and touts their mantra of “extraordinary people and extraordinary care.” Their commitment is reflected in their tenure.

“We have a tremendous amount of long-term employees, physicians and volunteers,” he said.

Citing the national average of 3.2 years average employee tenure, Whalen said that “people come here and they become bonded and loyal to the community, so they stay longer.” 

White-Wilson Medical Center

White-Wilson Medical Center has a long history of making investments in patient care and technology, ever since Dr. Henry White opened his office on tiny Brooks Street in downtown Fort Walton Beach. Joined by Dr. Joseph Wilson in 1952, White-Wilson Medical Center has provided a comprehensive range of services with the convenience of “one-stop shopping.”

In March, White-Wilson began offering digital mammography with a computer-aided second reader.

In order to provide patients with optimal breast imaging and comfort with lower X-ray dosage, White-Wilson installed the MAMMOMAT Novation digital mammography system from Siemens Medical Solutions, according to Alan Gieseman, CEO of White-Wilson.

Part of this new system was the iCAD second-look system. The iCAD system is a state-of-the-art computerized image reader that will provide a second “read” of all mammogram films. This second read helps to ensure that even the most minute trouble areas are detected and thus treated early. White-Wilson is the first in the Fort Walton Beach area to provide the iCAD system, Gieseman said

Also in the spring, White-Wilson expanded its Destin facility by enlarging space to accommodate more physicians. Gieseman said this expansion is in direct response to Destin’s growth.The Destin clinic now offers family practice and immediate care in addition to ear, nose and throat/head and neck surgery, OB/GYN and pediatrics.

One of White-Wilson’s unique services is its NeuroScience Center. With two neurosurgeons, four neurologists and a neurological physician’s assistant, it represents a rare and highly specialized capability in a single facility. Dr. Rob Feldman, staff neurosurgeon, noted the demographic characteristics of the community and how the NeuroScience Center anticipates patient needs.

“Northwest Florida and the Fort Walton Beach/Destin/Crestview/Niceville areas create a varied patient population, which includes vacationers and senior citizens, as well as a large contingent of military personnel,” Feldman said. “The variety of population creates water sports injuries, head trauma cases, degenerative spine injuries, intracranial hemorrhages, normal-pressure hydrocephalus cases and active-duty injuries.

“We are continually updating and enhancing the neurosurgical procedures that we perform,” Feldman said. “Common procedures we perform are brain tumors; brain hemorrhages; hydrocephalus; neck/arm and low back/leg pain; spinal fractures; and peripheral nerve problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. This includes not only performing new types of procedures and using new equipment and tools, but also remaining up-to-date on the latest in basic science and clinical applications in the neurosurgical professional literature.”

Feldman emphasized that White-Wilson’s cachet of convenient one-stop-shopping supports all specialties including neurosurgery.

“If a CT scan, MRI, nerve conduction studies, audiology, bone scan, X-ray, labs or physical therapy are needed, we can get it all done under one roof,” he said.
North Okaloosa Medical Center

In northern Okaloosa County, rapid population growth makes the area one of the most dynamic health-care markets in the region. Crestview has experienced nearly 50-percent growth in the last 10 years, increasing the need for expanded health care. North Okaloosa Medical Center has celebrated fast-paced growth and continues to add services to better serve the community.

“The trends show us that an overwhelming number of retirees and young families are moving into our community,” said Dr. Pam Meadows, chairwoman of the medical center’s board of trustees. “We are very proud of the advancements we are making in our hospital services and physician staffing that have allowed us to keep up with the demands of a growing population.”

One major area of growth in the last few years has been the establishment of the Heart and Vascular Center.

Staffed with a highly trained vascular team, North Okaloosa Medical Center was the first in the area to purchase state-of-the-art equipment, such as the 16-slice CT scanner and the Spectranetics Excimer Laser System, a multi-purpose cardiovascular system whose versatility allows it to be used in coronary and peripheral angioplasty and pacemaker and implantable cardioverter/defibrillator lead extractions, among other procedures.

“Our hospital enjoys a 94-percent overall in-patient satisfaction score,” said Dr. Luis Gomez, chief of the medical staff. “The strategy that has led to this success is the combination of responsible personnel, modern equipment, effective management, sophisticated support services, up-to-date professional education programs, and a medical staff of over 132 physicians who provide 28 different medical specialties.”  

Adapting to the changing health-care environment requires a commitment to a forward-looking strategy to build a responsive health-care capability – a daunting task given the dynamics of the population, rising costs, insurance issues, and the ever-changing state of medical technology.

But the Emerald Coast’s five medical facilities are clearly facing those challenges for the area’s residents.

In addition to assuring the health and well being of our population, the outstanding care these facilities provide add to the Emerald Coast’s appeal as a place to live and work.  

“Three of Okaloosa County’s top 10 employers are health-care providers who help add tremendous value to the high quality of life that is essential for the growth of existing and new businesses throughout our area,” says Larry Sassano, President of The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.

“When employers are surveyed about the most important factors affecting their new growth decisions, healthcare and quality health services weight in near the top of their list.”




Growing Health Care with Focus on Compassion and Community 

Growing up in Crestview, Roger Hall was infused with a deep sense of service and wanted to make a difference in the dynamic health-care industry.

That drive and compassion eventually earned him the position of CEO of North Okaloosa Medical Center in his hometown. Six years later, the same qualities brought Hall to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast as president during one of the rarest of events in economic development – the birth of a new hospital.

Opened for services on Jan. 27, 2003, Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast was a rarity indeed, filling an important need in the area. “Last year, there were four new hospitals constructed in the United States,” Hall said. “According to the American Hospital Association, there are only 5,756 registered hospitals in the United States. It is more common to see a hospital close than a brand new one open.”

Hall recently spoke with Emerald Coast Magazine writer Scott Jackson about the community support for the hospital’s creation and other health-care issues.

Characterize the community support in bringing Sacred Heart EC into the area.

The opening was completely driven by the community. Community members reached out to Sacred Heart Health System for access to high-quality, compassionate care after Destin Hospital closed in 1994.

Local residents assisted with the Certificate of Need process, and the Walton County Chamber organized a Purple Ribbon Campaign to raise awareness and support of the $20 million campaign to bring Sacred Heart to our community, which residents and local businesses willingly fulfilled.

The community’s support continues stronger than ever as the public guides us on the creation of future services and provides the moral and financial support necessary to operate a successful hospital.

What do you believe is the key to ensuring that health-care providers can be responsive to the needs of the community?

South Walton, Destin and surrounding areas are a great model of what a community means to health care. The community has supported the hospital every step of the way, and it is an honor and a privilege to serve here.

The quality of health care is always reflective of the quality of leadership in a community, and we are very fortunate.

Rising health-care costs and their effects on the uninsured have become alarming. What are your thoughts on this issue?

It’s very true and very frightening. Sixteen percent of the nation’s gross national product is consumed by health care, which is a significant increase over a few years ago, when it was 12 percent.

The constant growth in technology and information systems expands the choices patients have when it comes to health care. In Walton County alone, the emerging growth of uninsured and underinsured employees is staggering. Only 40 percent of the work force in Walton County has health-care insurance.

The budget for the Agency for Health Care Administration includes funding to protect the quality of health care in the state and ensures that Floridians are empowered to make health-care decisions that best meet their needs.

Do you feel that this budget, as approved for Fiscal Year 2007-2008, meets the needs of residents along the Emerald Coast?

From a broad, general perspective, yes. On an ongoing basis, no.

As long as we continue to see a majority of our employed population not having health-care insurance, then we will continue to see a tremendous burden on people with insurance.

Uninsured and underinsured employees will cause a number of issues moving forward.

Florida has the second-fastest-growing population of uninsured individuals and families, second only to California.

White-Wilson Medical Center Caring for the Emerald Coast for half a century 

By Scott Jackson

When Dr. Henry C. White first opened his doctor’s office in a house in downtown Fort Walton Beach in 1946, the medical profession had only recently seen its first heart surgery, and there had yet to be established a link between smoking and lung cancer. Medical technology was nascent, and the profession was unaware of the prodigious future it would have in health care.

White and his family lived upstairs above his practice so that he could be responsive to his patients at any time – an “under one roof” concept that exists to this day. As his practice grew, so did the need for additional capacity and equipment.

White later added a laboratory, diagnostic X-ray machines, surgery rooms and a few hospital beds, ensuring quality health care in one location.

In 1952, White’s medical school classmate and friend, Dr. Joseph C. Wilson, joined him, and in 1977, the foundation of White-Wilson Medical Center was formed.

In the ensuing years, satellite practices with clinics have opened in Destin, Nice­ville and Bluewater Bay; a Primary Care Center was established as well.

White-Wilson Medical Center’s growth now has spanned 11 presidential administrations, four U.S. armed conflicts, an increasingly diverse population and gigantic leaps in medical technology. Yet it has been undeterred from its goal of providing quality health care with a multi-specialty practice in a single facility. Additional service centers now are in place, including the Center for Women’s Health Care, the Center for Women’s Imaging, the Cardiac Imaging Group and the NeuroScience Center.

“White-Wilson is constantly staying ahead of the curve with ever-changing health-care technological advancements to continuously improve the quality of the health-care services for its patients,” said Alan Gieseman, chief executive officer of the medical center.

Through the years, White’s under-one-roof concept has steadfastly prevailed as the facility grew.

“One-stop shopping means fewer hassles and better care for our patients,” said Dr. Rob Feldman, staff neurosurgeon at the NeuroScience Center.

Steady growth for White-Wilson requires adapting to advances in procedures and medical technology, Feldman said.

“We are continually updating and enhancing the neurosurgical procedures that we perform,” Feldman said. “Advances in the field of neurosurgery are enabling us to make smaller incisions; create less post-operative pain; shorten recovery time; improve patient outcome with better results of pain relief; perform tumor removal; and preserve function.”

White-Wilson’s success through the years has been anchored to its convenient one-stop-shopping formula, which has continually adapted to a changing health-care environment.

“Staying current with the latest developments enables us to accomplish our primary goal: providing exceptional care for our patients,” Feldman said.