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Leaning on Your Community with Jake Pickens

Jake Pickens, Emergency Room Nurse at Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville, Alabama, talks about the tight-knit family community in and around Lakeland. When the hospital was faced with closure in the 2017 holiday season, that community displayed incredible resilience and fortitude in their efforts to help keep the facility open.

In this episode, Jake chats with us about the massive impact the hospital has had on his life and the Haleyville community as a whole.

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Show Full Transcript

Jake Pickens: Everybody stepped up and stepped in. Every department was working everywhere else. I mean, we had administrators up on the floor helping. I mean, it was just family.

Host: You're hearing from Jake Pickens, an emergency room nurse at Lakeland Hospital. In this episode, Jake shares the familial bond of the employees at Lakeland and how that bond helped them get through the potential closing of the hospital last holiday season.

Jake: It's family here. Everybody in this hospital knows you and they kind of know your background. And they all want you to be successful.

Host: This is Health IT on the Record, presented by MEDHOST, a show that explores how innovation in health information technology impact every aspect of a health system, from multi-hospital networks down to individual patients. In a moment, you'll hear Jake explain how the relationship between Lakeland and the people of Haleyville, Alabama, has helped revive the hospital, something that's rare when it comes to rural healthcare. Enjoy the conversation.

Jake: Hello. My name is Jake Pickens and I'm an emergency room nurse.

Host: Thanks so much, Jake, for coming by to just share a little bit about your story. We're excited to just connect with you, learn about what's been happening here at Lakeland and some of the changes and the challenges that have occurred. But before we get to that, I'd love to hear just more about your story. Because we actually just interviewed your sister who works here, so she's, I think, eight years older than you.

Jake: Yes, sir.

Host: And you've lived here your whole life?

Jake: Yes, sir. I have.

Host: And she was telling us a little bit about her perspective of how this hospital has such an important role in the community. And I would love to hear your take on that.

Jake: Yeah. Working in the ER, I know it hasn't been that long since I've been down there, but I see, every day, people whose lives have been changed. And without this hospital, I don't know what would have happened to these people. Because for instance, another hospital's not for 30 minutes away. Twenty, 30 minutes. And sometimes that's a life-or-death situation. See it all the time.

Host: Wow. And she was definitely calling that out too of how far it is away. And I mean, also if it's a seasonal thing. Maybe there's ice on the road, a life-or-death situation.There's a lot of parts to the hospital – the ER is just one of many. But you've worn several different hats here, right?

Jake: I have. I have. Yes, sir.

Host: Why did you decide you wanted to get into healthcare? And then let's talk through your steps here at the hospital.

Jake: Yeah. So I've kind of always wanted to be a doctor. But when I graduated high school, I obtained a good scholarship to Northwest-Shoals and actually had two years paid for. So I wanted to go ahead and get a degree while I was there. So I went ahead and obtained my RN degree. But before then, I was working here as a registrar, and then I went to the ED as a tech and then rolled over to an LPN. And then I rolled over, finally, to an RN. And next semester, I'll be starting back getting my prereqs for med school.

Host: Excellent. So you've seen a lot of different parts of this hospital, not only being here three years but just growing up in the community. But let's talk next about what role were you last holiday season when you got word that they were going to close the hospital?

Jake: I was actually in the ER as an LPN. It was definitely sad, and we had people that started to leave to find other jobs because they were concerned about their family. So actually, I was rolling through going – I was on detox some shifts. I was on geri-psych some shifts. I even did a couple of ICU shifts and a couple of med-surg shifts just because they were pulling everybody everywhere trying to keep it open until the end date.

Host: Where were you when you found out about them wanting to close the hospital?

Jake: I was actually at Whitley's house when they had –

Host: And that's your sister.

Jake: Uh-huh. Right. And she had got the phone call from her boss. And she just broke out in tears. And I was like, "What's going on?" And she said, "They just said that the hospital's about to close. Or it's going to be closing at the first of the year."

Host: What did you say about that? How did you respond?

Jake: I didn't know what to say. I was like, "You're kidding, right?" We couldn't believe it. We had heard nothing about the hospital shutting down, and then all of a sudden, it hits us during the holiday season. And it's like, "You're going to be without a job come the first of the year." And everybody was just erratic. We didn't know what to do.

Host: So you were saying that some people – I mean, there were some people who did leave. It sounds like the majority of the people decided that they were going to stay through it.

Jake: Yeah, they did. We had some people that left, but the majority of them stayed. And then we had some newcomers that came along once they figured out, "Hey. They're really not going to shut down. The city and county's stepping up, thankfully. And everybody else who had a part in saving the hospital." So they all came back. That was pretty good.

Host: Just a moment ago, you were talking about how you were jumping into all of these different roles. And on that theme of just tenacity and the people who work here – I mean, it seems like not only it feels like a family, but in a lot of cases, in your case, you have family who works here, your older sister. So walk me through what was happening to continue caring for the people in this community. What was that like to work all these different roles, to do these different services? Just kind of walk me through that. Could you?

Jake: Yeah. Like I said, I was being pulled everywhere, which everybody else was too because we were kind of short-staffed. So I would work ER one shift. The next shift, I would be on med-surg or night shift. And then maybe one ICU shift. Because by this time, we were kind of starting to shut down departments. So ICU was kind of shutting down. Well, we ended up having a bad patient, and then we ended up having to have the ICU back for just a little bit until we could get them out.

But yeah. The patients didn't stop rolling in just because we were going to shut down. I mean, business actually picked up a little bit because I think that the community saw, "Hey, we need this hospital. And I'm going to try to go to it before it shuts down. I'm going to try to utilize it before it's shut down."

Host: Right. Both for them to get care, but also do you think some of that was just to support the hospital?

Jake: I think so. I think we've had a lot of community support. I mean, granted, they were all sick. They needed to be here. I think that some of it was, "We need to check this out before it shuts down. We need to see how this hospital has progressed and how viable it is to the community." But yeah. Everybody stepped up and stepped in. Every department was working everywhere else. I mean, we had administrators up on the floor helping. It was just family. It's family here. Everybody in this hospital knows you and they kind of know your background. And they all want you to be successful. Everybody can say that you can find jobs anywhere else, which is true. But it's not going to be a family like it is here.

Host: We've heard before, I mean, if the doors do close on a rural hospital, I mean, it's going to stay closed. So the importance to work together to keep it open, that was the time to do it, and you all did it.

Jake: Right. Everybody stepped up and stepped in. And we can't be thankful enough.

Host: As we're slowly starting to wrap up, I'm kind of curious about how the community was stepping up. Not just the community within these walls but beyond, out in the town and the city council meetings. And I heard City Hall was just totally packed out. Were you able to go to any of those?

Jake: Yeah. I went to one of the City Hall meetings. The other one I had to work. But it was completely packed out. Everybody was standing. There was no room to sit. And just to see how everybody was kind of there to help. Like, "Hey, we need this hospital. You guys need to find out somehow to keep this open."

Host: Right. So when you think back now, as we're having this conversation, it was about a year ago. How does it feel now in the hospital compared to when it was kind of a dark time for a while?

Jake: Right. It feels amazing here. You walk in every day. You want to come to work here. Yes, we do have bad days. But all in all, when you wake up, there's no other place you'd rather be. You want to come here. You want to work. You want to see how your daily job impacts the community as a whole.

Host: Right. And you get to see that.

Jake: Yeah. We get to see it firsthand. And most of our patients, we kind of know, especially the ones that live around here. So it's good to know that, "Hey, we've kind of helped you to get you either upstairs to get you better or get you sent out to a specialty area where they can get you better." It's nice to be able to know. And then nice for them to come back and follow up, whether you see it on social media or whether they come back and thank you for the care they received. It's good to know that, "Hey, I did something in that life to impact them, and I'm glad I was able to do that." And I think that's how everybody feels here at this small hospital.

Host: Excellent. Well, Jake, thanks so much for sharing your story, for hanging in there, for you and your whole team here to continue the care and the service so people could access it right here, right here at home.

Jake: Yes, sir. Thank you so much for having me.

Host: Thanks for listening to Health IT on the Record, presented by MEDHOST. For more stories and content like this, be sure to visit Thanks.

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