ENID, Okla. — St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center CEO Krista Roberts has a simple message for the Enid community as the COVID 19 pandemic enters its third year: While COVID remains center stage, keep up your checkups and screenings with your family physicians so you won’t have to go to St. Mary’s.

“Cancer still happens,” Roberts said. “Heart attacks are still happening. There are still falls and strokes. Health care did not stop because of the pandemic. You need to take care of your health care needs. We can’t take that for granted. If you’re seeing some things you don’t think are right, go seek a medical professional.”

She urged those who are not COVID symptomatic to reevaluate where they are turning when it comes to testing for the virus, as that is impacting care in emergency rooms in Enid.

People wanting such tests should not come to the hospital’s emergency room if they are not ill. Often the hospital has had to keep patients in the emergency department until a room becomes available.

Tests for COVID should be done at facilities such as the Garfield County Health Department if at all possible, she said.

Those showing signs of COVID — shortness of breath, fever, fatigue — are encouraged to seek emergency care at the health facilities.

Careers and COVID

The pandemic has created a historical challenge for Roberts and her staff as they have had to concentrate on COVID precautions. Several new launches could be delayed because of the emphasis on COVID safety, Roberts said.

Staff recruitment will be a high priority for 2022 to fill vacancies occurring in the health care field.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to talk with students about careers in the health field,” Roberts said. “We just want to make sure the next generation of health care workers is in the pipeline. It’s a great field with many, many opportunities.”

The competition for physicians is intense, Roberts said.

“In a physician, we’re looking at what the needs of the medical staff are and what are the needs of the community,” she said. “We are looking for someone who might have grown up in rural Oklahoma and would like to practice in a community our size as opposed to Oklahoma City or Tulsa.

Roberts works closely with the hospital’s community partners to sell the prospective physician on Enid.

“The quality of life is very important,” she said. “We want to show what Enid has to offer. The physician is looking for a professional and personal fit.”

The same is true for nursing, and in this case the hospital can draw from at least three local pools — Northern Oklahoma College Enid, Northwestern Oklahoma State University-Enid and Autry Technology Center.

Roberts said St. Mary’s has done well in its recruiting. She said the hospital does try to recruit personnel with ties to the community or who want to work in a rural areas.

An emphasis on recruitment fits in with St. Mary’s and other hospitals’ first priorities of late, which fall under the umbrella of maintaining current services during a pandemic.

“We’re trying to maintain our staff for the core services,” Roberts said. “We are trying to help our staff physically and emotionally endure the challenge of this pandemic. We have never experienced a pandemic of this magnitude or duration. It’s extremely challenging with this being the third year. We just have to continue to work with the surges.”

St. Mary’s has been able to get away from absolute patient isolation that was a technique used by health care facilities during the first months of the pandemic in 2020.

COVID-19 patients are allowed one visitor at a time. The rest of the patient population is allowed two visitors.

“We’re continuing to social distance,” Roberts said.

Taking on cancer

The hospital’s cancer unit, located on the fifth floor of the Parkview building, across the hospital to the west, has not been affected by the pandemic.

“The cancer unit is very strong and going well,” Roberts said. “We have been able to separate them from the hospital population and have been able to meet the patients’ needs.”

Roberts doesn’t see the cancer unit expanding in 2022, but there are opportunities to educate the public about its attributes since it opened in 2019, only to be overshadowed by the pandemic the next year.

Marketing director Heidi Hughes said there is talk of not a grand reopening, per se, but a re-education of the community.

“We want to re-educate the community on the improvements we have made since it was made available,” Hughes said.

State-of-the-art facilities

Roberts said she does hope to see expansion in technology, a highlight of which has been the DaVinci Surgical System and Robotic Surgical Assistant (ROSA), a robotic system launched last year that is used in the ever-expanding orthopedic field.

“We’re seeing more expanded utilization of that technology,” Roberts said. “The more cases they do, the more we educate family and friends from those procedures.”

The robotic system has a precise surgical cut of the bone, and surgeons are “seeing some excellent outcomes, especially in terms of recovery, definitely.”

The cardiac care catheterization lab upgrades “have provided great benefit to the cardiologists,” Roberts said.

She said St. Mary’s is fortunate to have a 22-bed cardiac inpatient rehab facility.

There are some future plans for this facility, Roberts said, but “at this point, we’re not ready to let it out of the bag yet.”

The new HD laparoscopic towers in surgical suites have provided an upgrade in all the high-definition equipment and have improved the visual fields for the physicians.

The hospital’s wound care unit was recognized by Healogics, the nation’s largest provider of advanced wound services last July.

The hospital has installed a new stealth navigation system for neurosurgery under the guidance of Dr. Barry Pollard.

A 15-bed inpatient adult behavioral unit has filled a void needed in the area’s mental health treatment, Roberts said.

“That unit has done some remarkable things and has had some great outcomes,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the hospital has made its own commitment to maintain the mental health of its employees dealing with the stresses of the pandemic.

“We have remained committed to our employees,” Roberts said. “Just like any other employer in the community, we do have employees out with illness. It has impacted our staffing.”

National accreditation

St. Mary’s has achieved clinical outcomes for 12 consecutive months, including patient satisfaction rates of higher than 92% and a minimum wound healing rate of at least 92% within 28 median days, according to a press release from St. Mary’s.

Of 555 facilities available for the Center of Distinction, 278 received the honor.

St. Mary’s has full accreditation of all services surveyed by The Joint Commission, the leading accreditation facility for health care organizations in the United States. St. Mary’s was recognized in 2013 as a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures by the Joint Commission.

The hospital received an “A” grade in the Fall 2021 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade in protecting patients from harm and error in the hospital.

“We have gotten a lot of awards on the national level,” Roberts said. “That is a direct reflection of our culture and commitment from all of our team members and medical staff. We try to tout the latest medical technology available to ensure people can continue to get high quality health care in Enid.”

St. Mary’s will continue to emphasize rural and small town hospitality.

“We treat patients like family,” Roberts said. “We might treat someone for a cardiac condition and maybe another different diagnosis later. We have been focused on helping those who have been directly involved on the front lines during the pandemic and supplying what needs they may have.”

Article by: Bruce Campbell, Enid News & Eagle 1.30.22