Jackie Medland: When the Unexpected Happens: Highlands-Cashiers Hospital Works to Ensure Patient Safety in Multiple Ways

By Jackie Medland
President/Chief Nursing Officer, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital

This month I want to focus on the importance of emergency preparedness, both for you as individual community members and for us at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH). It’s imperative to be ready for any unexpected emergency, whether it’s a serious threat to your health or to our facility’s safety and security. At HCH, we regularly test and evaluate the security and functionality of our organization amidst the daily work of patient care, because nothing is more important than the safety of our patients and team members.

To that end, we recently executed a logistically complex, campus-wide drill for a scenario where an active assailant enters our hospital armed with a weapon and intending to do harm. Through this carefully simulated event, our hospital team and community partners, including the Macon County Emergency Management, the Macon County Sherriff’s Department and the Highlands Police and Fire Departments were exposed to a harrowing situation, one that required critical thinking, precise execution of protocol and teamwork. The drill confirmed what we already knew: that full preparedness is inextricably linked to our relationships with these community agency partners. These are the very same people who respond to any 911 call, perhaps from a person who may be experiencing a heart attack, and whose first priority is, incredibly, to always run toward any threat.

There’s another type of preparedness I’d like to talk about now that we’ve entered National Heart Month. February is the perfect time for you to learn what to do if you think you might be suffering from a heart attack. Heart attacks can strike at any time, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and know what steps to take. For example, did you know that the signs of heart attack in men and women may be different? Men often experience chest and arm pain and shortness of breath, while women may experience nausea, flu-like symptoms and back or jaw pain. Either sex may experience any of these symptoms, so it’s important to remain aware.

Should you note these symptoms, you must enact your own drill—immediately dial 911 and get to the emergency department closest to you, because every second counts. If you were to arrive at our HCH ED, our highly skilled clinical team would deliver the same clinical protocols as those of our main Mission Hospital facility in Asheville. You’d be fully evaluated to determine whether you are experiencing a heart attack or not. The Emergency Physician at Highlands-Cashiers can begin diagnostic and treatment protocols, stabilize you and immediately access a cardiologists via telehealth. If need be, arrangements for transfer will be made. You can feel secure knowing that HCH is a gateway to one of the most sophisticated cardiac programs in the nation, as evidenced by IBM Watson Health’s repeated rankings of Mission Health as one of the nation’s Top 15 Health Systems and Mission Hospital as one of the Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospitals in America.

Partnerships are all-important when responding to the unexpected, whether in your own home or here at the hospital. We know that preserving and enhancing our alliances with our community members and agencies makes for a stronger, healthier community.


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.