WTOC Investigates: The 'New' Memorial Health

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - It's been three months since the sale of Savannah's public hospital, Memorial Health, was finalized to Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).

In the last 90 days, a new logo has been rolled out, computers have now been updated to HCA systems, and new supplies have started to trickle in. For some of the nurses in Memorial Health's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), these changes have meant a lot.

"I can't tell you how excited we are about the new feeding pumps," said NICU Nurse Megan Falvo. "It's the little things when you're a neonatal nurse."

Memorial Health CEO Shayne George says this is just the beginning of a year-long transition process.

"We are asking 'what do you need, how can you deploy that, how quickly do you need it,'" George said.

Employees like Falvo can remember a time when supplies and new equipment were limited.

"Some of our babies are born early and can't hold their own temperature up. We have special equipment called a Giraffe Isolette. If we couldn't find that, we would have to call down to rental or another hospital," she said. "It was just difficult sometimes to get what we needed. We knew we needed help, we knew we needed more funding."

When HCA made an offer to buy the hospital, Falvo was hoping their offer wasn't too good to be true.

"You know staffing, pay and the equipment coming in, we were just wondering what that would look like for us," Falvo said.

HCA owns about 177 hospitals around the country including six in South Carolina and eight in Georgia. In fact, we traveled to Doctors Hospital in Augusta to get a feel for an established HCA hospital.

The CEO at Doctors Hospital says there's a huge advantage of being a part of such a large organization.

"You don't have to solve every problem on your own," said Doctors Hospital CEO Doug Welch. "You've got a lot of support and resources in Nashville, the division office, and your sister facilities to help you take care of patients."

That support was invaluable last year when Doctors Hospital and other HCA-owned hospitals in the Southeast were in the path of Hurricane Irma.

"It's just like a disaster plan, we all work together," said Dr. Fred Mullins, Burn Specialist at Doctors Hospital. "We are all sister hospitals. Whoever is in need, we help."

During our trip to Augusta, we also saw HCA's on-going commitment to investing in capital projects. WTOC toured the construction site of what will be the new emergency room at Doctors Hospital, a project that will be completed from start to finish in a year. Like HCA promised, expansion projects are in Memorial Health's future as well.

"HCA has committed $150 million so we are rapidly deploying that," George said.

For many years, there have been plans to expand a couple of un-finished empty floors at Memorial Health to add to the Heart and Vascular Institute. However, money has always been tight. Now with HCA, they will not only expedite that project but also the new Children's Hospital. These projects will be fully funded and completed within a couple of years.

HCA has already spent $4 million on new beds and stretchers for the hospital. Two new robots have also been brought in that will be used to conduct minimally-invasive surgeries on stomachs and spines.

Unfortunately, the CEO says this transition has also come at the cost of some jobs because while there is money to be spent, there are areas where they are looking to save.

"One of the first things we wanted to do was match our staffing with patient care needs, so we are going through those adjustments now. We did let go of 85 but at the same time, we are recruiting for 200 clinical positions," George said. "You know in the past, the hospital has lost millions so we've taken a look at and we are making the necessary tough decisions to move past that."

The transition period is expected to take about a year which means more changes are coming, but for employees like Megan Falvo, it's an exciting time.

"So far, it seems like they are living up to what they've told us," Falvo said.

The money that's now being invested is not only transforming the hospital physically, but it's also revitalizing and restoring the overall morale.

"They are very excited about the possibilities they are bringing, the renovating of the new Children's Hospital, the new equipment that they bring to the table in general," Falvo said.

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