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Difficult news won't impede Effingham Health System's progress
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Dear editor,
Effingham Health System has shared difficult news this week of a settlement with the U. S. Attorney’s Office. In response to the news release, we received several comments and questions that we believe should be addressed to avoid confusion. It is important to understand that we are limited in what we can share because of ongoing investigation but want to ensure you have the correct information.
First, we want to assure local residents that their tax dollars will not be used to pay this settlement. Thus far in fiscal year 2018, Effingham Health System provided approximately $15 million in indigent, charity and uncompensated care. The annual financial support from the County for indigent and sick care is approximately $3.6 million. Effingham Health System has not used the county funds for the civil penalty payment. The county funds were dedicated and previously expended for the indigent and sick in our community.
Second, as we previously stated, the settlement was not an admission of liability and was a compromise to avoid extensive legal fees by resolving this matter quickly. Similar to the 2015 government settlement with Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the DEA allegations was that the Health System did not notify the DEA of the theft or loss of a controlled substance. The regulations require the facility to notify the DEA of the theft or significant loss of any controlled substance within one business day of discovery of such loss or theft. The Health System notified the DEA of the loss, but there is a difference of opinion regarding the timing of the discovery and subsequent notification. The Health System addressed this with the DEA and, in order to avoid prolonging the dispute about the timing the Health System, entered into this compromise settlement. The Health System cooperated with the DEA throughout this process.
We have arranged for the settlement fine to be paid over a period of two years.
Third, while the task of managing this problem and sharing this information with the media and our community has fallen on our CEO, Fran Baker-Witt, we want to make it perfectly clear that Mrs. Baker-Witt did not create the record-keeping systems at the heart of this settlement. In fact, Mrs. Baker-Witt has demonstrated remarkable leadership for our organization during this difficult period.
Under her leadership, as the U.S. Attorney’s office stated, the Hospital began updating pharmacy systems as early as 2016, shortly after Mrs. Baker-Witt was named Interim CEO.
Once the government agencies shared concern for diversion of drugs within the system (2017), Mrs. Baker-Witt launched an internal audit and expedited the conversion to state-of-the-art tracking and monitoring systems. Under Mrs. Baker-Witt’s leadership we have not only addressed critical system updates, including the pharmacy, but we have added important patient services, and dramatically improved patient satisfaction across our healthcare system.
EHS is an important community resource that provides healthcare close to home for the people of this region and provides an economic engine for Effingham — employing over 400 local people. At a time when other rural hospitals have been struggling, Effingham Health has experienced growth—and we cannot take that for granted.
We’ve developed partnerships that provide local people access to the leading specialty care in this region. Our ER treats over 18,000 people a year and is staffed by Emergency Medicine Specialists with Level I Trauma Care experience. We opened a fast-growing Cancer Care Center that provides treatment for local cancer patients—that saves them from having to make repeated, difficult trips to Savannah for their treatment — at a time when they need to be focused on healing. We’ve also added important resources for our children, recruiting a pediatrician and launching telemedicine in our schools.
These changes have been recognized by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which recently named Effingham Hospital a Top Hospital in Georgia — and the only four-star hospital in the Greater Savannah area. The EHS Care Center just earned a five-star CMS rating. Our community recently expressed their support by voting EHS the Best of the Best Hospital in Coastal Georgia, through the Savannah Morning News. While in our physician practices, we have increased patient satisfaction to 96.7 percent (per independent patient surveys).
While we are all dismayed that our pharmacy systems were able to be compromised, and with the high cost of the settlement, we do not want to lose focus on the road we are traveling. We have a valuable resource in this hospital, which is why we are all willing, as volunteers, to invest our time in leading its growth. The Board of Directors and Health System leadership's priority is to assure that we move forward to continue to grow Effingham Health System.

Patricia Ann Yarbrough, chairman of the Hospital Authority of Effingham County