Hospital will keep operators on switchboard

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY ó Rowan Regional Medical Center switchboard operators were back at work Wednesday after a disastrous attempt to move the call center to Winston-Salem.
After one week, hospital President Dari Caldwell pulled the plug on NovantHealthís centralized call center and restored the service at Rowan Regional. All switchboard operators were asked to return, and 10 who came back were welcomed ělike royalty,î operator Judy Bernhardt said.
ěWhen I heard that familiar voice this morning, I thought, ëThank God,í î said Dr. Doug Shellhorn, hospitalist medical director and a physician with Rowan Diagnostic Clinic.
Caldwell said she had so many complaints from frustrated physicians, she couldnít count them all.
ěI got plenty of reaction,î said Caldwell, who spent the weekend at the hospital to monitor the switchboard change.
Shellhorn said it was chaos for physicians, who rely on switchboard operators to help them consult with colleagues, order tests and otherwise care for patients.
Shellhorn was called at home one night when he wasnít on duty. He was transferred to neurology when heíd asked for urology. His pages went to the wrong doctors.
He credits Caldwell with acknowledging the problem and working quickly to find a solution. ěFrankly, I was amazed,î Shellhorn said. ěThat could not have happened three or four years ago in this hospital. This administration is very responsive to people saying, ëLook, this isnít working, and itís putting patients at risk.í î
The problem wasnít call volume, which the hospital had estimated correctly, Caldwell said.
The nature of the calls was more complex than anticipated, she said. Physicians needed operators to take action, not just make a connection.
After the difficult weekend, the hospitalís leadership team met Monday and agreed that Novant, which owns the hospital, needed to reinstate the local switchboard.
ěWe love our operators,î Caldwell said. ěThey are the heart of the hospital.î
Novant supported the decision, she said.
Rowan Regional had planned to save $350,000 annually by eliminating the call center. The hospital will have to find other ways to save money, Caldwell said.
Rowan was the only hospital to pull out of the consolidation, which included Forsyth Medical Center, Medical Park Hospital, Thomasville Medical Center and Kernersville Medical Center.
Bernhardt is back at work, doing a job sheís loved for 14 years. She was skeptical about the change.
ěI had some doubts, to be honest with you,î she said. ěWe just wanted to be sure the families and patients and staff were being looked after.î
Caldwell said she greeted the operators with hugs Wednesday to show her appreciation.
ěItís not often that you find employees who were as understanding as those folks were,î she said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.