Carol Wolfenbarger: “On A Mission” Team Successfully Transitions Care and Patients to the New Mission Hospital McDowell

By Carol Wolfenbarger
President, Mission Hospital McDowell

I’m happy to report that, with a great deal of careful planning, mindful troubleshooting, and the finely-coordinated efforts of many, the new Mission Hospital McDowell (MHM) is now fully operational! Due to the hard work and intense focus of every team member, we completed the final – and most sensitive – part of our move on Friday, March 9th: the transfer of our patients.

A project of this scope is daunting to say the least, but it’s also an incredible opportunity. The “big day” was, in essence, a “test drive” that assessed our disaster readiness. This 24-hour task required big vision and minute attention to detail in equal measure – exactly what would be needed if we experienced a true emergency like a significant natural disaster. The great news is that our staff was able to do this work without the urgency that surrounds a real disaster.

Even though Hurricane Katrina hit 13 years ago, its traumatic effect on the national psyche remains. If you recall, extensive media coverage showed that some of the most vulnerable groups of people – hospitalized patients and the elderly – fared poorly as a result of unaddressed infrastructure problems, operational chaos, and lack of needed supplies at the facilities in which they were housed. This concern is never far from the minds of hospital leaders. The task of moving MHM to its new location provided us with an excellent opportunity to use a very important tool known as the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS), and gave our team the opportunity not only to safely move all of our patients, but also to practice and develop our response to potential emergency events.

As we celebrate our safe and successful transition, I’ll explain how we used this operational and logistical blueprint as a guide to establish structure, authority, safety assessments and practices specific to the situation. In our circumstance, the “emergency” was moving our patients and patient care to a new facility while keeping both our patients and staff safe, and providing an unwavering standard of care.

As our “On A Mission” Commander, I worked closely with our Operations and Planning Chief to ensure that operations were maintained throughout the move, and also with our Information Systems Leader to make certain that all technology – from telephones to computers – worked appropriately. Collaboration with our Logistics Chief and Safety Officer to orchestrate each step of the move ensured we put plans in motion to create an Incident Action Plan that promoted success. It was crucial for us to communicate clearly with all participants, and methodically prioritize objectives by creating a sequential project timeline. Adherence to this framework allowed us to successfully relocate every department, starting with our Emergency Department.

Once our chain of command was set, during preparation we provided hours of training, simulations, and even scavenger hunts to ensure that all staff could do their jobs with confidence, without missing a beat. As a result, they were familiar with the building, could locate supplies, had fluency with using telecommunications, and understood patient flow prior to the move.

When we stood back at the end of moving day, it appeared as if change had happened magically, but we knew better. In closing, I’m grateful to every “On A Mission” team member, including our McDowell Emergency Management team. We did it and the community will benefit for decades to come!


Carol Wolfenbarger, MSN, RN, FACHE, is President of Mission Hospital McDowell. She holds both Bachelors and Masters of Science degrees in nursing administration from the University of Tennessee, is board certified in Healthcare Management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Carol, who has served hospitals and health systems for more than three decades, has worked to add full-time cardiology services, led growth in outpatient services including imaging and surgery, and the expansion of primary care offering in Burke County since assuming her role as President at McDowell Hospital in 2015. She is an active member in Rotary and serves as a Board member for the Rutherford/Polk/McDowell Health District Board of Directors, the Corpening YMCA Board of Directors, and the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

To learn more about Mission Hospital McDowell, visit mission-health.org/mcdowell [1].