By Jackie Medland
President/CNO, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital
As the summer winds down, we prepare for a stunning natural art exhibit on the Plateau, where leaves change color and move with the wind. Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH), the Eckerd Living Center (ELC) and our affiliated practices are also preparing for a significant, permanent shift in how we’ll offer care in the years to come – becoming affiliated with, and being supported by a nationally recognized healthcare system, HCA Healthcare. This historic transaction means that we’ll be better equipped to focus on this community’s most pressing healthcare needs, all of which revolve around tailoring the care we provide to your needs.
The nation is seeing great numbers of adults enter the 65+ demographic, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. This is true of Jackson, Macon and Transylvania counties too, where, on average, 1 out of 3 residents is now in this age group. Not surprisingly, “older adults” represent the majority of patients we serve today at HCH.
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement partnered with the John A. Hartford Foundation to fuel a national effort to define and create age-friendly healthcare facilities and partnerships. They’ve defined four key priorities (the “4Ms”) for hospitals and health systems to address when caring for older patients. The 4Ms are: mobility, mental health, medications and addressing what matters most to older patients. HCH continues to stay ahead of the curve, in terms of facility upgrades and ensuring that our clinicians are provided with the most up-to-date education on these patients’ needs. There are additional changes that still need to occur including care access enhancements, expansion of innovative service delivery such as telehealth, and partnerships with families, social service agencies and community organizations.
We now offer a broader array of rehabilitation services and rotating specialty services, like urology and cardiac care, and our residential care facility, the Eckerd Living Center, recently received a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – a rating only 10 percent of North Carolina’s facilities earn. This is a recognition of the high quality care, services and resources we offer our treasured residents. Our Eckerd staff is exemplary, and we’re blessed to have this wonderful facility in our community where loved ones can be safe, well cared for and positioned right next to the hospital should they need emergency care.
Future changes include seamless care coordination across state lines to serve our seasonal residents, recruitment of professionals with expertise in treating older adults – like geriatric pharmacists and mental health practitioners – and facility design changes that offer even more comfort to patients and family caregivers. Healthcare services through our CarePartners team will also play a greater role in caring for patients, right in their own homes.
Our next Evening with the Docs program is perfectly in keeping with our age-friendly outlook. The September 20 session is entitled Safe Steps: Keeping Mobile and Fit, which will focus on maintaining mobility and fitness as we grow older. Our own Herbert Plauche, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, will host the event from 5:30-7 pm at the Jane Woodruff Clinic, Room 103. Attendees will learn about ways to keep active in however they’re able and how to manage and treat balance issues often related to inner ear problems, medication side effects and even vision problems. Left unmanaged, these can lead to a dreaded danger: falls.
We’re also hosting a focus group series on September 20, 24 and 25 to better understand what matters most to our older adult community; you are our best information source in our quest to become fully age-friendly. Two morning and three afternoon sessions will be offered, as well as an evening session on the 25th. Call Brittany Dryman at 828-526-1345  to RSVP for both events. Program details can be found on our events calendar. 
By learning firsthand about your views and needs for age-friendly care and planning thoughtfully, our work to make our communities stronger and healthier together will be strengthened.
Jacqueline Medland, PhD, RN, is the President/Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. Jackie has enjoyed a career as a healthcare leader for over 30 years, including positions in direct patient care, advanced practice nursing, nursing management and hospital administration. Jackie received her MSN from the University of Illinois, College of Nursing, and her PhD in Organization Development from Benedictine University. She is a member of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, the American Organization of Nurses Executives, the Illinois Organization of Nursing Leaders and Sigma Theta Tau. Jackie’s unique leadership and mentorship was recognized by the University of Illinois, College of Nursing with the Sage Award.