Health care in Hampton gets a boost

Roper St. Francis Healthcare is stretching its medical muscle by about 90 miles, from Charleston to rural Hampton County, under a new effort to expand patient-care options in an underserved area of the state.

Roper St. Francis and the smaller Hampton Regional Medical Center said Wednesday they have formed an affiliation that will give the recently built 36-bed hospital in Varnville broader access to Charleston-based specialists in such niche areas as cardiology, neurology and oncology.

"We think this is something that will make a profound change," said David L. Dunlap, president and chief executive officer of Roper St. Francis.

The cooperative alliance, which took effect Feb. 1, also will enable Hampton Regional to save money by ordering some of its goods and services through the much larger Roper St. Francis purchasing network.

"I think we can all agree that the economics of health care have become more challenging in recent years, and it has never been more important for hospitals to explore opportunities to collaborate like this," Dunlap said.

The deal marks the first formal working relationship between Roper

St. Francis and another hospital "in modern times," he said.

Dave Hamill, president and CEO of Hampton Regional, said his hospital serves about 45,000 people, not nearly enough to support the more exotic and costlier health care services typically available in more populated areas.

He said the arrangement with Roper St, Francis could be the difference between life and death, citing a heart- attack victim who needs an immediate, complicated surgery. Previously, Hampton Regional would be forced to find a full-service hospital with a specialist on call who would accept the patient.

"The end result is delayed care," Hamill said. "When you have delayed care in a scenario like that, the outcome isn't as good."

Now, he said, a patient in a similar dire medical situation can be transported immediately either by air or ground to Charleston.

Officials from Roper St. Francis and Hampton Regional said they have been talking seriously about collaborating for about a year. One of the key mutual attractions was the fact that both are owned by private nonprofit organizations that share similar values and missions, they said.

The arrangement does not affect the ownership or management of the two health-care systems. Hamill said either hospital operator can terminate the deal at any time if it so chooses. Also, Hampton Regional said its patients do not need to change their health insurance plans or physicians as a result of the affiliation.

The alliance with Roper St. Francis marks the latest effort to improve the quality of health care services in Hampton County, said Thomas Harper, chairman of Hampton Regional's board of directors.

He said the 80,000-square-foot Varnville hospital completed last summer replaced an aging 58-year-old facility that had been "added onto and taken away from" over the years.

"We can now draw on y'all's magnificent string of doctors," Harper said.