By Emily Ford
EAST SPENCER — Dari Caldwell wants East Spencer and other towns without a primary care doctor to have one within five years.
Caldwell, president of Rowan Regional Medical Center, kicked off a series of town meetings with an enthusiastic crowd in East Spencer, one of four Rowan County towns lacking a primary care practice affiliated with the hospital.
Landis and Cleveland also do not have primary medical care, and Spencer has a practice owned by Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast, a competitor of Rowan Regional.
“Our focus is physicians and getting them out into the community,” Caldwell said at the meeting hosted by Southern City AME Zion Church.
East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett said more people would seek health care if Rowan Regional put a doctor closer to their home.
“It is really important because people are faced with financial difficulties, and if we have a physician in the area it would encourage them to come to the doctor,” Mallett said.
Now, some people delay medical attention until their condition requires a trip to the emergency room, she said.
People with diabetes and other chronic conditions would receive better care with a neighborhood doctor, Mallett said.
Caldwell called the chances of a doctor in East Spencer “a good possibility” and said Rowan Regional is evaluating where to put physicians across the county.
Volume, demographics, transportation and competition all play a role in the decision, she said, as well as the overall economy.
“We are always watching the economic indicators to see which is the right time to expand,” Caldwell said.
She agreed with Mallett that underserved areas like East Spencer could see a jump in health screenings and preventative medicine with a local doctor.
Right now, Rowan Regional is focused on expanding practices in China Grove and Granite Quarry.
Farrington Family Medical Center in Granite Quarry has outgrown its facility, where Dr. David Caron sees up to 50 patients per day, Caldwell said.
Rowan Family Physicians South, with Dr. David DiLoreto and Dr. Meredith Bowen, will have a new medical office in China Grove across from the Stag and Doe, Caldwell said.
She said the hospital has added more than a dozen new doctors and stepped up recruitment efforts in the past year.
“Growth is what we’re all about right now,” Caldwell said.
New physicians include three cardiologists, a foot and ankle specialist, a spine specialist, a primary care doctor, an internist and pediatrician, an obstetrician-gynecologist, a general surgeon, a rheumatologist and an infectious disease doctor. Many were trained at prestigious hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University, Caldwell said.
“I am really excited about the quality of the physicians we are recruiting,” she said.
Caldwell touted new services including a 24/7 heart attack program to stop damage to the heart within minutes of arrival at the hospital.
Rowan Regional boasts better times from the ER door to the catheterization laboratory than other hospitals in the region, she said.
Caldwell listed the hospital’s recent awards, from orthopedic care to stroke response, and said her son and husband recently had surgery at Rowan.
She detailed the hospital’s new technology, including a smartphone application that streams fetal monitor readings to an obstetrician’s cell phone and a teleneurology service that allows neurologists in Winston-Salem to evaluate stroke patients in Salisbury via a two-way camera sensitive enough to focus on the pupil.
The 14-bed Rowan Hospice House should open in October, and the 10-bed geriatric psychiatric unit opened in March is so busy, the hospital will double its size once Caldwell recruits another psychiatrist.
The 75-year-old hospital has spent $50 million so far in equipment upgrades and unit renovations, with another $20 million slated for this year.
Caldwell appeared with hospital employees Falon Nye, Robin Baltimore, Edwina Ritchie and Greg Philpot and Dr. Thomas Carlton Jr. board chairman of Rowan Regional Medical Center Foundation.
“It’s important to not just stay shut up in the walls of the hospital but get out into communities and try to make a difference,” said Caldwell, who plans to hold similar meetings in nine other Rowan towns by December.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
By Emily Ford