PAHOKEE — Pahokee city commissioners had some blunt questions for executives of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County and Lakeside Medical Center after they gave an update on operations at the Glades’ only hospital during the commission meeting Tuesday, June 26.
Palm Beach County Health Care District CEO Darcy Davis first gave a PowerPoint presentation, starting out by saying, “My purpose tonight is to answer questions, squash rumors and see if there’s anything you want to know that you don’t know already.”
Ms. Davis brought a group of district and hospital officials with her to the meeting, including Stephanie Dardanello, administrator of Lakeside Medical Center; Karen Harris, vice president of field operations; Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, director of emergency services for the hospital; and Dr. Daniel Padron, chief medical officer. One slide showed a picture of Dr. Belma Andric, the hospital’s new chief medical officer and executive director of clinic services, who was not present.
Pointing out local Glades faces among those on the Lakeside Health Advisory Board, Ms. Davis said the Rev. Robert L. Rease recently was elected chairman. She added that “I know that (members) Angie Pope and Julia Hale live out here in Pahokee; Sandra Chamblee (vice chairwoman) has been around for a while in this community; and Mary Weeks (secretary) used to be the director of nursing at Lakeside and the Glades hospital before; and Donia Roberts is a local attorney.”
Ms. Davis ran through her presentation’s litany of numbers showing how much service Lakeside has provided to the community, how its services are integrated into the community, and how important it is to the Glades as an economic anchor and regional employer. “We believe that we are here for a purpose, we are not going anywhere, our board has made a commitment, and we’re investing in the community,” she said.
When Mayor Keith Babb opened the floor to questions, Commissioner Felisia Hill asked, “What exactly is the reason that you’re here, in one sentence?”
“We want to make sure you know that we’re investing in Lakeside and not shutting it down,” Ms. Davis replied. “We’re continuing to invest and make it grow, so there’s a lot of change, there’s transition, there are people coming and going, but we’re … not shrinking it, not backing off of our obligation.” Vice Mayor Clara Murvin said, “That’s good to hear because one of the rumors is (about) why are so many of our physicians leaving, our radiologists, the anesthesiologists, why are they leaving the hospital?”
“They’re not necessarily leaving,” Ms. Davis said. “We have not renewed their contracts. With radiology, their contract was up, so we put it out for bid, and we made a different choice. Anesthesia should be following very shortly thereafter as well. Some of them are choosing to leave, but we’re also increasing the expectations in terms of performance and outcomes. Some of it is very deliberate — most of it is very deliberate — that we’re trying to improve the quality of care.”
Dr. Scheppke added to her answer by saying, “I think we’ve heard the cry-out for a higher level of care in this community, and we’re doing what we can to meet that need and raise the bar to the highest level you could expect at any other hospital in this county.” Commissioner Hill asked why they could not work with the doctors they had.
“The reason why I got involved was the quality of care was not up to the standard of care,” responded Dr. Scheppke. “I think what happens is that when you’re left to be comfortable, you get comfortable and you don’t move and advance with medicine. When we came in, there was pressure applied because we demanded professionalism and a higher standard. With all due respect to the previous physicians that did their best, we’re here today because it wasn’t enough.”
City Manager Chandler Williamson asked, “What is the strategic plan for providing more pediatricians in the Glades?”
“Through our clinics, we do have pediatricians,” answered Ms. Davis. “We provide adult and pediatric care in the clinic, so the goal is to move those into the hospital proper to have access to those physicians. We also have a neonatologist who is available to help with deliveries.” She admitted, though, “We won’t probably ever be a full children’s hospital with the full complement of pediatric specialists because they’re very hard to find.” Dr. Scheppke added that the hospital is looking into better partnerships. “We’ve discussed an actual outreach clinic for Palms West’s pediatric residency clinic. We’re trying to find a way to collaborate with as many of the other hospitals that have somewhat of an abundance of specialists and see if we can have them come over and help us out.”
Mayor Babb spoke up again. “We certainly believe in the concept of regionalization because it’s more economically feasible,” he said, “but is there any conversation about a possible 24-hour urgent care facility here in Pahokee … that would help bring care to our residents in an emergency?”
“That’s an excellent question,” said Ms. Davis. “No, we honestly have not actually had that conversation, I would love to take a look at numbers once these guys are there to understand what kind of volume (there is). We track where the zip code is so we could pull data to see what could have been kept in Pahokee and see if that makes sense.”
Commissioner Bennie Everett capsulized the commission’s concerns by saying: “As gatekeepers for this city and also for our neighboring communities, we wish to ensure that we’re not just sold some dream. Our communities really just don’t have the faith in the delivery of services that Lakeside has. Our genuine concern is that we want to have quality services.”
Ms. Davis summed up: “I think we are tasked with a very specific mission, and have been stagnant over the years, perhaps, the last few years. We are moving forward in trying to respond to the needs of the communities, and our purpose is to create a healthier workforce, help with our children and provide excellent care.”