Rowan Regional marks 75th anniversary

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — As Rowan Regional Medical Center celebrates its 75th anniversary, President Dari Caldwell speaks candidly about her desire to improve the hospital’s reputation.
Boosting the Rowan Regional’s image and making it the “hospital of choice” in the region is so important to Caldwell, she’s named it one of the top goals in a new five-year strategic plan.
An ambitious project to recruit doctors, update the facility, launch new services and more, the five-year plan has dozens of doctors, administrators and others working toward five major goals. A strategic planning committee led by Granite Quarry Mayor Mary Ponds created the plan, and the hospital’s board of directors will oversee it and review progress every six months. The first review occurs in September.
“We don’t put as much time and effort into the building as some other hospitals. We don’t have a lot of sexy glass, and there’s not a lot of pizazz,” Caldwell said. “But it’s what goes on on the inside that is phenomenal.”
Rather than focusing on outward appearances, Rowan Regional holds true to a 75-year tradition of serving as a community hospital, she said. Effort and energy are put into the quality of care, which has always been good and is making even greater strides, she said.
“We are at the top of the class with quality measures,” Caldwell said. “Our struggle is telling our story.”
Rowan Regional doesn’t share the same image as CMC-Northeast, and Caldwell, who worked at the Cabarrus County hospital and took the helm at Rowan Regional last year, wants to change that. As far as she’s concerned, the hospitals are now on equal footing in the care they provide.
“There is a lag time between the achievement of a hospital and the community recognizing that,” she said. “We are a state-of-the-art hospital, but the community doesn’t always know it.”
Her goal over the next five years is to make sure they do.
When she worked as a nurse in Cabarrus County, Caldwell said Rowan Regional’s reputation struggled. “And I don’t know if it was deserved or not,” she said.
Then Cabarrus Memorial Hospital changed its name to NorthEast Medical Center and started open-heart surgery.
“The impression began to be made that really cool stuff is happening in Cabarrus County and not at Rowan,” Caldwell said. “It created those impressions that maybe set Rowan back a little bit.”
Now, Rowan is CMC-Northeast’s equal, she said, and Rowan’s smaller size is an advantage in delivering what the hospital calls a “remarkable patient experience.”
“We are small enough have the ability to be very personable and cater to patients,” Caldwell said.
Four years ago in a survey of Rowan County residents, Rowan Regional did not rank as the hospital of choice. Caldwell didn’t say where Rowan fell, but said “the scores were not where you want them to be.”
Rowan will launch a new effort “to tell our story,” Caldwell said, pointing out new and improved services like high-risk obstetrics, 24-hour neonatal nurse practitioners and an interventional catheterization lab for heart attack patients. Often, people don’t realize all that Rowan offers until they are in critical need of medical care, she said.
The hospital will work to improve its image through collaborations with the Rowan County Health Department, schools and colleges to improve community health. With more than 1,300 employees, Rowan Regional is one of the largest employers in Rowan County.
Caldwell expects all 30 members of her leadership team — anyone who manages a department — to serve in a leadership role for a civic organization like the United Way or Chamber of Commerce.
“We are stepping up in the community as a leader,” she said.
Caldwell said she’s been working closely with Health Department Director Leonard Wood on a strategy to improve the county’s health ranking. The most recent data, collected in 2007 by the University of Wisconsin, placed Rowan 62nd out of 100 counties.
Not good enough, Caldwell said.
“We want to be in the top 50,” she said.
The hospital has started construction on a new psychiatric unit for older patients. Ellen Messinger donated $100,000 to help build the Linn Geriatric Behavioral Health Unit, named for her parents, the late D.C. and Frances Linn.
The 20-bed unit for patients ages 55 and older should open in December on the first floor in the B tower. The new service will answer a longstanding community need for psychiatric care for older people, Caldwell said.
The hospital, which has an adult therapeutic unit called Lifeworks, will bring on an additional psychiatrist to serve the geriatric unit.
“I am thrilled about it,” Caldwell said. “This advances services in the community and answers needs.”
A major renovation of the intensive care unit is also under way, with a long-awaited doctors’ lounge and a pharmacy expansion to follow.
All facility upgrades as part of the five-year plan are funded by NovantHealth, which agreed to spend $250 million in the community when Rowan Regional joined the health network in 2008.
So far, the hospital has spent $70 million and put $120 million set aside for a future facility in southern Rowan County, Caldwell said.
The remainder will be spent to update the main campus, but also to send services to branch facilities in Salisbury, Rockwell, China Grove and elsewhere.
“It’s a little like a Rubik’s cube,” Caldwell said.
Eventually, Rowan could have a physician in each of Rowan’s municipalities as least a few days a week, she said.
“The challenge is the costly overhead. It takes a certain volume to support a practice,” she said. “But we believe that’s an important part of what we do.”
Next 75 years
As Rowan Regional looks back this year with several celebrations and events to mark the 75th anniversary, Caldwell said the hospital is preparing for the future.
“We will continue to be focused on quality and being a strong player in this region,” she said. “I don’t want to see us get too big. If you get too big, you lose the personal touch.”
The biggest challenge looming ahead is health-care reform, particularly considering Rowan County’s economic status, she said. Over the next five years, Caldwell hopes the community will embrace Rowan Regional and make it their hospital of choice.
“I don’t want people to feel like they need to leave their community to get the care they need,” she said. “We aspire to meet the needs of the community and do it with the absolute highest quality of care.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Key dates
Aug. 29, 1935 — Construction begins on Rowan Memorial Hospital. Four stories, 80 beds, 28,294 square feet.
Oct. 17, 1935 —  Thousands gather for ceremonial laying of cornerstone.
Aus. 1, 1936 — Doors open at corner of Mocksville and Confederate avenues. Elizabeth Lewis Miller named superintendent until 1956.
1949 — 3,251 admissions.
1940s-’50s — Adds 133,458 square feet.
1955 — 125 beds. ER has one table to examine patients.
1956 — E.H. ‘Ed’ Heyd named administrator until November 1967.
1959 — 11,057 admissions. Average patient cost per day $20.12.
 Oct. 8, 1967 — New five-story wing with 129 beds, first phase of $4.5 million expansion
January, 1968 — M. Earl Bullard named chief executive officer until 1990.
March 29, 1969 — Emergency care available on weekends.
1985 — 35,187 ER visits .
1988 — Rowan Memorial Hospital Foundation formed.
1994 — 48,036 ER visits. 10,487 admissions. Average patient stay five days.
December, 1995 — Name changes to Rowan Regional Medical Center.
1997 — Wilson L. Smith Family Outpatient Center and Kiser Medical Office Building opens. Parking garage and sky bridge open.
Jan. 1, 2008 — RRMC becomes part of Novant Health                        
Jan. 26, 2008 — Partners in Progress Capital Campaign raises $26.3 million.
May, 2010 — Dari Caldwell named president.
December, 2010 — 55,633 ER visits. 171,570 patient visits.
June, 2011 — Rowan Hospice House groundbreaking.
August, 2011 — 268 hospital beds. 1,301 full-time employees.
Source: Rowan Regional Medical Center
RRMC 5-year strategic plan

• Attract and retain high-quality medical staff in the right locations.
Recruit 25-30 new physicians.
Add more primary care physicians and expand specialists.
Focus on putting doctors in each geographic region of the county.
Designate primary care practices as “medical homes.”
• Develop and offer high-quality and high-performing clinical focus areas.
RRMC focus will be orthopedics, cardiology, neuroscience, oncology, women’s services, behavioral health.
Develop world-class surgical service for both inpatient and outpatient.
• Improve the hospital’s image and make it the provider of choice in the region.
Position RRMC as the health-care leader in the community through collaborations with other providers to improve community health.
Partnerships with schools and colleges.
Expand congregational health program.
• Implement a master facility and technology plan that improves the patient experience.
Continue evaluation of appropriate time for south Rowan facility.
Improve way-finding both to and within RRMC.
Improve patient access to facilities.
• Continuously improve the financial, operational and quality position of RRMC.
Maintain top ranking in nation for quality and safety measures.
Achieve Magnet status for nursing.
Implement and integerate electronic medical records
Improve financial vitality and prepare for health-care reform.