For the residents of Winston County, Alabama, Lakeland Community Hospital was the closest place to get essential diagnostic imaging services. When the hospital announced it would be closing at the end 2017, thousands would be losing easy access to critical care resources.
Megan Welborn, Director of Imaging Services at Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville, Alabama, discusses how that announcement impacted her employees and the surrounding community. She also highlights the sacrifices they made to continue providing patient services during a trying time and talks about the progress Lakeland has made since the 2017 announcement.
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Megan Welborn: The first thing you think about, naturally, is my family, my job. Nobody wants the hospital to go away, but I need a job, too, you know? It was really hard that day thinking about what we're going to do. What's the community going to do?
Host: That's Megan Welborn, the director of imaging services at Lakeland Hospital. Last November she was one of the many employees at Lakeland who were faced with unemployment when the hospital announced it would be closing. In this episode, Megan talks us through the concern that she felt in that moment, not only for herself, but for her children.
Megan: Any department could have made that decision to not stay and it would have been devastating to the hospital, so I'm really proud that the people did choose to put in the effort.
Host: This is Health IT on the Record, presented by MEDHOST, a show that explores how innovations in health information technology impact every aspect of the health system, from multihospital networks down to individual patients. In a moment, Megan will discuss the effort she and the other employees at Lakeland made to continue to care for the people of Haleyville. She will also share the great progress the hospital has made in just a year. Enjoy the conversation.
Megan: Hello. My name is Megan Welborn and I'm the director of imaging services here at Lakeland Community Hospital.
Host: Thank you Megan for taking a few minutes to just hang out with us and share your story.
Host: And we've just loved visiting your community here and I'm really eager to hear from you kind of the story of the hospital, the journey that it's been on. And this started last holiday season, so could you kind of take us back to where you were, what was happening here and kind of when you found out about this news?
Megan: Well, we was actually sitting in this room when we found out.
Host: And what is this room?
Megan: This is the conference room at the hospital. The owner of the hospital called a special meeting.
Host: What's going on? Had he done that before?
Megan: I mean, he don't come to meetings, you know? I mean, we saw him once every two months maybe in the hallway, definitely not in a meeting. So he called the special meeting and we kind of knew as managers that our bills wasn't getting paid and different things. So he shows up and we're just like, "Oh my gosh, what's he going to say?" We were expecting him to let some people go, you know? And yeah, then he said, "I'm going to have to close this hospital, effective December 31st."
And tears just started rolling down my face. I was just in shock. The first thing you think about, naturally, is my family, my job. Nobody wants the hospital to go away, but I need a job, too, you know? So it was really hard that day, thinking about what we're going to do. What's the community going to do? It's a shock.
Host: Now at this time you've got kids at home?
Megan: Yeah. I had a one-year-old and a three-year-old at the time, so taking care of them was a concern, but also just a month prior there was a three-year-old brought into our ER here and he had to be flown out and remained in ICU at Children's Hospital for I think almost two weeks. And my thought was, "That could be my little girl," or, "If this hospital wasn't here he might not have made it. Do I want to live in a town without a hospital? Do I want my kids to go to school in a town without a hospital?"
Host: So there's a lot of questions going through your mind. Now, in addition to that, it's the holiday season. So how did that add a layer of just uncertainty? What was going through your mind when you layered that on top of it?
Megan: Nobody's getting Christmas presents, you know? It was just really hard. He said in the meeting, "You know I could have waited to tell you before the holidays, before Thanksgiving, but I didn't want anybody to go out and spend a lot of money the day after Thanksgiving." We're like, "Oh, gee, thank you. Thanks so much."
Host: Unreal. So, before we go into kind of the results, like what ended up happening, one question I do want to ask you. This is at a point when you could stop, take another job and just leave, and so many people around you could have done the same thing, so why did you and so many people around you here at the hospital stay?
Megan: Well, we owed it to our community to stay, to our patients that we seen on a regular basis. There were people in the hospital. There were patients scheduled for tests. They needed somewhere to go and if we could offer them that extended amount of time while they transitioned into looking for care elsewhere, we wanted to be able to take care of them. They needed somewhere to go.
There was a lot of talk in the town. Naturally, there's lots of people that don't use a hospital. There's a lot that do. The people who don't use the hospital think no one uses the hospital, which is clearly not true. There's lots of people that were making statements, "Well, we don't need the hospital anyways." "Nobody uses the hospital." Or things like, "The only people that are saying anything about keeping the hospital open are the employees."
Host: There's a lot of chatter, small town.
Megan: Right. Lots of things on Facebook, lots of people just like, "Everybody on here that's saying they want to keep the hospital open, you all work here." Well, yeah it's true we care about our job, but also we're the only ones that see the patients that come in the hospital. We're the only ones that see lives saved in the ER every day. The town doesn't see that, you know?
Host: It was certainly clear, from what I've understood, when so many people came together so quickly, there's a lot of people that cared about it.
Megan: Yeah. Yeah, it's a great place to work. It's a great place to live. I love my job. I love the people I work with and the people I work for. I'm not looking for another job.
Host: This is your home, right?
Host: That's a really good point, that people out in the community they're not seeing what's happening behind closed doors here. You just mentioned the emergency room, but there's a lot of other services, preventive care, that you have here at the hospital, so could you kind of share some context of what that looks like, that being offered here versus someone having to leave the community to go get that care?
Megan: Yeah, well we offer nuclear medicine studies, stress testing. We see a lot of patients every week for that, and if we didn't have that here they would probably be driving an hour to have that done. They come in and out and they're done in the time they could have driven somewhere and back home.
We do mammograms here. We're the only mammogram facility in the county, so we see a lot of women throughout the year that don't want to and don't have the means to drive a long way, and if they had to they just probably wouldn't get it done. So yeah, naturally we have all of the other services too, X-ray and ultrasound, CT. We can do anything anybody needs here, close drive to home.
Host: Health IT on the Record is brought to you by MEDHOST. With over 30 years of experiencing partnering with providers nationwide, MEDHOST is helping evolve better solutions for healthcare management through innovative workflows and technologies. For more information, visit www.medhost.com. Let's jump back in.
Host: One of the final things I would love to ask you is from January to March, so this is right after the holidays, you're open, but there's still the heavier workload to really keep it going, keeping the momentum to keep the hospital open. Can you take us back to that time?
Megan: Yeah. We were still open, but there was still a lot of uncertainty, naturally. We were still under the same owners, still wondering, "Do I need to take that job they called me about?" "Do I need to hang out here and see if this works because I really want this to work. I really want to be here in my town.
I want our hospital to stay open and if I don't do it – there was only three of us in my department. If just three people decided, "No I don't want to do it," well, you can't have a hospital without radiology. You can't have a ER without CT. So yeah there was a lot of people still working here, but any department could have made that decision to not stay and it would have been devastating to the hospital.
So I'm really proud that the people did choose to put in the effort, but, like I said, there were three people in my department and we were working it felt like every day all day, but we have to sleep here at the hospital through the night because we never did have a night shift. So between the three of us, we were staying two nights a week between the two of them and then I was staying three nights a week most weeks. And this went on for a month or two of just sheer exhaustion.
We all have family at home. I have two toddlers at home. My other coworker, she has three boys, all in school. Then the other employee, she has grandkids that she helps take care of a lot. So it was hard on everybody. Hard on us physically, hard on our minds, hard on our families. We have our family at home thinking we're dying over here. "Do you really want to continue doing this? Maybe you should just get another job."
We did have backup, but we didn't want to go to the backup. We wanted to do what we could here. And we could see the light, we thought. They kept coming in saying, "It's going to work, it's going work. We're going to buy the hospital. Just hang in there. Just hang in there, we need you." And they did.
But during that first month, we did not have a radiologist in my department, so we were unable to provide nuclear medicine to the community, unable to provide mammograms to the community, so that was tough. It helped us get through that first month when we didn't have the staff to do it anyways, but in the end we got a radiologist back, we got our patients back, we got our employees back. Some that left decided they better come back, too, because it wasn't so fun where they went to.
Host: Yeah. We've heard stories about people being here for so many years and I really like how you talked about seeing that light as you're coming out of this. There were also, we've heard, times that there were lives saved during those months.
Megan: Absolutely. We saved a life yesterday in the ER. It happens almost every day. That's what we're here for.
Host: Just your energy right now I can see a big smile on your face. Even your posture has changed as you're thinking about how things are today and the pride you have compared to when you were in this same room not that long ago feeling devastated. So when you reflect on how you're feeling today compared to then, what kind of difference is that and how do you feel that in the hallways here and all the different team members you have here?
Megan: I'm feeling great. I love my job. I love the hospital. I love my boss. I love our patients. It just seems like we get good news every day. We're going to be better than before. We're going to be better than it probably ever has been. We hope to bring on new doctors. They're working on that. We have a lot to offer. We have a lot of help to offer to the town, to the community.
Host: I love it. I am so thankful we got to hear your story. Thank you so much for taking the time with us, and I know you're busy, but we'll get you back into the floor and doing your job here, but thank you for stopping by to share your story.
Megan: Thank you.
Host: Thanks for listening to Health IT on the Record, presented by MEDHOST. For more stories and content like this, be sure to visit medhost.com/resources. Thanks.