Chesapeake grows into Albemarle


Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, which recently opened the wound treatment and sleep centers show here in Elizabeth City, is planning other care facilities in Elizabeth City and Camden.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Helping to “right-size” primary care in northeastern North Carolina is just one of many big items on Chesapeake Regional Healthcare's to-do list for 2019, health system President and CEO Reese Jackson said this week.

He also addressed competition with Sentara Healthcare – and whether growing services around Elizabeth City would undermine Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, the hospital there.

Jackson explained CRH is working to better serve everyone in its service area, which spans out from Chesapeake to include parts of Virginia Beach, Suffolk, and Portsmouth, as well as in northeastern North Carolina in Elizabeth City, Camden, and along the Outer Banks. That area is home to some 300,000 people, he said.

CRH's flagship is Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, and Jackson said the system is working to evolve as a tertiary care center. Tertiary care refers to specialized, often highly complex and costly, treatments. Specifically, he said CRMC is seeking a “Certificate of Public Need” to add open-heart surgery. If the process goes well, approval and construction would take two years, he said.

Another big goal is improving, and getting recognized for, prompt and effective care of stroke patients, he continued. The hospital is pursuing certification as having a “Comprehensive Stroke Program,” he said. It's seeking that certification through the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program, he said.  HFAP is a federally-authorized firm out of Chicago.

Of course, CRH is also planning major investments in Elizabeth City and Camden this year, he noted. It's planning to invest close to $1 million in Elizabeth City to open a “convenience care” clinic. “Convenience care” means it would treat minor illnesses and injuries, provide flu shots and other basic preventive care, according to CRH spokeswoman Tricia Hardy. The clinic would also include outpatient X-ray and an outpatient lab, she confirmed last week.

In Camden, CRH is also looking at more than $700,000 in equipment and salaries to open a primary care clinic in Camden Towne Center.

Those facilities could help take care of a lot of people. Nevertheless, they've also caused some local concern. That's because the clinics could take away patients from Sentara Albemarle, which relies on patients to offset costs of treating low-income or uninsured patients.

Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker articulated those concerns in a meeting last week, where she said losing paying customers could risk the hospital closing and patients having to drive to CRMC or Sentara Norfolk for treatment.

Sentara Albemarle officials haven't gone that far. Sentara Albemarle President Coleen Santa Ana declined to comment directly on CRH's plans in a recent interview, but reiterated the hospital's commitment to improving care and keeping it local.

Sentara Albemarle officials have also said they've seen growing patient demand over the years, and expect to break even or see a small profit from their last budget year.

Jackson responded to those competitive concerns on Tuesday, and explained there are enough patients for both systems.

Jackson said CRH, like Sentara, has done “community needs assessments” that show northeastern North Carolina still does not have enough primary care providers. There's still a shortage of at least five primary care doctors and three nurse practitioners, he said.

Jackson also said CRH is not looking to open certain, competing services in Elizabeth City, citing endoscopy and outpatient surgery. He also noted CRH has long collaborated, rather than competed with, neighboring healthcare systems, including Sentara and Vidant Health.

Asked also if he foresaw CRH trying to open a hospital in Elizabeth City, Jackson said no.

As to concerns that CRH is trying to steer patients towards its hospital, CRMC, Jackson said the clinics are meant to offer local care and should help patients avoid driving to Chesapeake.

Jackson also said CRH is committed to serving every patient in its service area equally well. The system was founded to serve the city of Chesapeake, but Jackson described “Chesapeake” being in its name as honoring heritage.

Chesapeake Regional Healthcare was established by Virginia state law in 1966. It started as Chesapeake General Hospital but has changed its name since to recognize its broader service area. CRH services in Elizabeth City include advanced wound care, a sleep center, and an internal medicine practice.