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Forty years of care: Technology changes face of medicine, quality patient care still top priority

March 4th, 2014 8:37 am by Leigh Ann Laube

Forty years of care: Technology changes face of medicine, quality patient care still top priority

Dr. Thomas Frist Sr. (center), chief medical officer of Hospital Corporation of America, and John Neff, president of HCA, attended the ribbon cutting and open house of Indian Path Medical Center in 1974. Dr. Diana Trundle was the chief of the chemistry de

When Indian Path Medical Center opened its doors in 1974, emergency department registered nurse Barbara Knight had a manual blood pressure cuff in every patient room and used a three-color pen to make chart notes — which color she used depended on the shift.

“Black was for days. Green was 3 to 11. Red was 11 to 7,” she said. “Now, I do those same things in a completely different way. A machine takes their blood pressure, and I chart it on a computer.”

Advances in medical technology may have changed the face of health care in the last four decades, but one thing has remained the same at Indian Path — quality patient care is the top priority.

“As far as the job itself, what you do daily as far as taking care of the patient, that hasn’t changed much,” Knight said. “You still have to take them to the bathroom. You still have to give them medicine.”

Indian Path, opened under the umbrella of the Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America and its founder, Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., took its name from a trail which ancient native Americans used to travel on the east side of town. 

During construction of the hospital, Indian relics were unearthed and are now on display in the hospital’s lobby.
Indian Path was originally planned as a four-story building, but officials quickly saw the need to expand, and a decision was made to add another three stories. During construction, a small trailer was set up on the property for potential employees to apply for jobs. Eight of those original employees — Barbara Knight, Betty Bell, Glen Lewis, Jane Jones, Judy Powers, Marie Lingerfelt, Tommy Davis and Wanda Britt — are still there today.

Jones had been out of college for four years when she was asked to join the newly established privately owned facility. Today, she is a laboratory section manager.

“I didn’t actually apply,” she said. “I felt honored that I was asked to be a part of that.”

Marie Lingerfelt, like Jones, was working at another hospital when she decided to be a part of Indian Path. She had been in the medical field for five years. Today, she’s a lab technician specialist.

Betty Bell was an licensed practical nurse when she joined Indian Path. Once there, she began registered nursing training. Now, she’s an RN clinical supervisor in the MSMG Hospitalist Program. Glen Lewis was still in high school when the hospital opened. He had been working as an orderly in a nursing home and he was hired as an orderly at the hospital just before his high school graduation. He graduated from nursing school in 1979 and today is a house supervisor for nursing administration.

Tommy Davis graduated from lab school in 1972 and worked in a physician’s office for 18 months before applying at Indian Path. He’s also a lab technician specialist. Judy Powers worked at other heath-care facilities before visiting the small trailer to apply at Indian Path. She was one of the first LPNs hired there and today works part-time in short stay. Knight also worked at other facilities before applying to Indian Path as an RN. Four decades later, she’s part-time, but still in the emergency department.

These long-time employees tout among the perks the good working conditions and family atmosphere among staff.

“From day one, we’ve felt like we’re part of a family,” Jones said. “We’re a very close-knit group of people.”

Monty McLaurin joined Indian Path in January 2004. As chief executive officer, he’s proud of this family atmosphere and of the ways the staff has gone above and beyond to exemplify the culture of IPMC.

“You come in the front doors of this hospital and almost every team member knows each other by their first name, irrespective of where they work in the hospital. We have very low employee turnover here, some of the lowest in the Tri-Cities. People really enjoy working here,” he said. “There are some super stories … of team members who have gone above and beyond. During the recent snowstorm, Teri Christian, nurse manager for the Family Childbirth Center, came in with clothes in hand as well as some food. She was prepared to stay and to work. She thought of others first, taking over assignments so workers with children or those who lived a distance away could make it home safely before their shift was scheduled to end. Also, Patti Wilson, nurse practitioner on the unit, worked and rearranged the schedule to accommodate others, even taking a late night call because she knew she would be there anyway.

“On more than one occasion, we have had team members who have reached into their own pockets to buy clothing for patients who have nothing and are about to be discharged. Last year, the team members at IPMC arranged to have a wedding relocated in the gardens at the front of the hospital so that the bride’s father, who was a patient at IPMC and who could not leave the hospital, could see the wedding by looking out his hospital room window.”

Dr. Robert Williams practiced at Indian Path from July 1974 to September 2006. Originally from Cookeville, he wanted to practice in Tennessee and saw an opportunity at a new hospital.

“The opportunity was here so I took it. I have no regrets,” he said. “I wanted to practice medicine. I felt the opportunity to practice here was wide open.”

After medical school, Williams served in Germany during the Vietnam era. After the service, he did a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in cardiology. He was looking to practice in a growing environment. Indian Path, he said, was on the drawing board at the time.

Williams joined the Sevier Medical Group, which later evolved into Brookside Medical Center. He had privileges at both Indian Path and Holston Valley Medical Center.

Though retired, Williams visits Indian Path once a month or so to catch up with friends. “This is your family. I spent more time here by a long shot than I did at home,” he said. “It is indeed a family.”

Technological advances have been at the forefront of health care during the last 40 years.

“In 1968, I was a junior in high school working as orderly at a nursing home. In 1971, I was an orderly in a hospital. I was a lab tech in a hospital in 1973. In 1974, I worked as lab tech in a physician’s office, so I’ve been in hospitals as far back as I can remember. My first hospital administrative kind of job was 1976. There’s no way that anybody could have anticipated the breadth and speed that technology has evolved in health care,” McLaurin said. “During that whole time, we had the rise of the sub-specialists. Who ever heard of pediatric neurologist? A surgeon who only does shoulders? Surgeons who did the work that gastroenterologists do now. Open heart surgery used to be the only way to fix a heart problem. ... Technology has advanced and open heart surgery is a last resort now. Many things are taken care of now that used to require open heart surgery.

“We used to have long lengths of stay post-surgically. Now these people go home the same day or the next day. 

From a computer standpoint, we have the electronic health record, which is becoming the mainstay in the United States. Everything used to be paper. Now a radiologist can sit here [at IPMC] and, through a picture archive system, he can pull up images sent from Norton to interpret X-rays or CT and get a result back to Norton.”

These 40-year employees have been on the front lines of the technological advances.

“Some of the things that are automated now, it took us all day long to do,” Davis said.

“It’s no wonder length-of-stay is so short,” Lingerfelt added.

McLaurin credits the visionaries of HCA for the success of the hospital, even though there have been rough patches along the way.

“This hospital started as an HCA hospital and was very, very busy and really did well into the 1990s, then there was a change of management and they stopped making investments here. By 1998, when [Mountain States Health Alliance] was formed and the HCA hospitals were acquired, this hospital was on life support,” he said. “The investments that Mountain States decided to make in terms of equipment and space really revitalized it. Since 2004, when I got here, we’ve really exploded in terms of growth in an economy that’s really tough.”

When HCA executives envisioned Indian Path, McLaurin said, they had the foresight to purchase an 80-acre piece of land that had great accessibility.

“This was probably considered the edge of town in 1974. Being able to visualize a location that has really become a key area — if our take a look at how retail has developed down Stone Drive toward the Pavilion — this is a key area.”
Indian Path was constructed as a 300-bed hospital, not so large you get lost in it, but not so small that you can’t attract the kind of specialists you need, he said.

“It’s always smart to end up doing a few things very, very well, rather than trying to do everything not so good. Here, we’ve been able to focus on some of those key areas and really zero in. The last thing and most important is this hospital has developed a culture of patient-centered care and I think it’s recognized as that,” he said.

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