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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Healthcare sector soaring at SML

From primary care to specialists in a variety of medical fields, residents and visitors have access to a wide range of healthcare services across the SML region.

While comprehensive and convenient healthcare is the norm now, it hasn’t always been the case at SML.
    “A decade ago, if you wanted to see a doctor, you had to go to Burnt Chimney, Rocky Mount or Moneta, where there was [and still is] a group of doctors,” said Ron Willard, president of The Willard Companies, the area’s largest commercial and residential development company. “It was around that time we reached the point that there were enough people here to bring the services to the people.”
    The Willard Companies set out to do just that, constructing buildings designed to accommodate healthcare providers and reaching out to a wide variety of physicians, networks and industry-related businesses. The response, Willard said, was slow for a number of years.
    And while numerous providers – independents as well as those affiliated with Centra, Carilion and LewisGale – have thrived at Smith Mountain Lake over the years, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the tide of healthcare really began to swell.
    In 2004, Roanoke-based Carilion, the region’s largest healthcare network, committed to bring expanded services to SML with a focus on the flourishing Westlake area. Last summer, Carilion made several changes to its healthcare offerings at Westlake as did Salem-based LewisGale.
    On the Bedford side, Centra, a Lynchburg-based network, has taken the lead on development of healthcare facilities. Village Family Physicians, the Cardiovascular Group of Centra Stroobants Heart Center and Seven Hills Urology all provide services to lake-area patients.
    Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, said increased healthcare coverage strengthens the local economy. Expanded medical facilities and amenities create jobs, attract newcomers and give residents security in local healthcare access.
    “Healthcare is a basic need and critical component of regional development,” Gardner said. “The lake-area infrastructure has grown and developed to the point where it can now support advanced healthcare services.”

Taking the Pulse of Franklin County
    Shirley Holland, vice president of strategic development at Carilion Clinic, said the latest developments in the Westlake area are the result of a long-term relationship with the Franklin County community.
    “The whole Smith Mountain Lake area is very important to us,” said Holland. “Beginning with Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital in Rocky Mount, we’ve been involved in that area for at least four decades. In addition to the hospital, we have a number of primary care physicians throughout the area.”
    In 2009, Carilion opened a $4-million, state-of-the-art imaging facility with urgent care, sleep lab and helipad. Holland said the company has made several changes and additions since.
    “We’ve added internal medicine and stationed one of our helicopters at the imaging center. Most recently, we moved urgent care to a more visible location on Route 122 and rebranded it as VelocityCare. It has been very well received by the community,” she said.
    VelocityCare is a revised version of the previous urgent care that’s meant to bridge the gap between primary care and the emergency room, said facility representative Kim Roe.
    “If there is something you would go to the doctor for, but isn’t as immediate as an emergency room need such as stroke or heart attack, we can see you at VelocityCare,” said Roe. “From there, we will also work to facilitate referrals, if needed.”
    Extended hours, an on-site pharmacy and increased space are just a few of the benefits available at the new facility. Roe said there are also limited occupational medical services for employees who become ill or injured.
    “We recognize that Smith Mountain Lake is a growing area and is requiring more services,” she said. “We can now offer more urgent-care services through VelocityCare and even consumer-driven testing such as diabetes and cholesterol checking. We call every one of our patients back within 48 hours to see how they’re doing. We’re happy to be there, and we like our new location.”
    Another recent development impacting the lake and surrounding communities is the fixture of the Life-Guard 10 helicopter at the Westlake helipad. Susan Smith, director of Carilion Clinic’s Life-Guard program, said of the company’s three emergency helicopters, Life-Guard 10 is the largest.
    “We were looking at a triangular formation in which to place our helicopters so that more rural areas would receive coverage, and Westlake seemed a logical location along with Christiansburg and Lexington,” said Smith. “We know the population in [the SML] area is really growing and it made sense to put it where the people are and where we have the property.”
    Holland said continued changes will come from listening to members of the community.
    “The people there trust our care, and we’d like to thank them for giving feedback about the services they’d like to see brought to them. We’re continuing to listen to residents to find out what their needs are and meet them in that area,” said Holland.

LewisGale Expansion
    Dr. Brent Chapman, a cardiologist with LewisGale, has cared for SML patients from his Westlake location since 2006. In 2011, LewisGale Physicians Westlake, located in the Lakewood Professional Center, added pulmonary care, rheumatology and sleep disorder medicine to its porfolio of services.
    Dr. Douglas Dorsey and Dr. Jeffrey Werchowski offer office hours on a monthly rotational basis. Werchowski specializes in pulmonary care and sleep medicine and can treat a variety of medical conditions, from COPD and asthma to obstructive sleep apnea. Dorsey specializes in internal medicine, pulmonary disease and critical care.
    Dr. William M. Blaylock, a rheumatologist, sees patients each Tuesday for the treatment of muscle, bone and joint-pain problems, including rheumatoid arthritis.
    Chapman said the increase in healthcare offerings, particularly the provision of a wider range of specialists at Smith Mountain Lake, makes for happier and healthier lake residents.
    “All the improvements here have followed the residential developments in the area,” he said. “It’s important even to the extent that I think some people have stayed in the area because of it. It has helped fill a void and encouraged people to stay, especially as they get older and need healthcare close by.”
    According to Chapman, lake locals can expect LewisGale to increase its presence in the area with more specialty physicians and clinics.     

Bedford County Coverage
    Skip Meador, vice president of business development for Centra Medical Group, said Smith Mountain Lake and Bedford County have been important to the company for a number of years.
    “Everything we’ve done in that area has been centered on meeting the needs of the community,” said Meador. “We’re aligned with Village Family Physicians [near] Downtown Moneta, which is the largest practice in that part of Bedford County. They are a very busy family practice and one we hope to continue to support.”
    Meador said a branch of the cardiology clinic serves as a place where several specialists from The Cardiovascular Group come from Lynchburg’s Centra Stroobants Heart Center to meet with patients.
    “Almost three years ago, we initiated the cardiology office in Moneta where our purpose is to give local residents access to top-quality healthcare. Our cardiologists are at the hospital all morning, then go to the SML cardiology office in the afternoons. With their rotation, our doctors have a constant presence. That clinic has been very successful, and we added a physician last year,” he said.
    According to Meador, more additions may be on the way.
    “Our offices there are very busy,” he said. “We’re looking at that region right now and evaluating how we can do even better to meet the community’s needs.”
    Centra also recently announced a proposed medical center in the Pittsylvania County town of Gretna, which would be convenient to residents who live in the most southern parts of SML. If approved by the state health commissioner, the medical center would significantly expand existing services and add imaging technology and a helipad.
    “We’re here to serve and are very proud of the quality of service we provide to Smith Mountain Lake,” said Meador.

More Medical Moves
    In addition to providers from the area’s large healthcare networks, several independent practices and niche providers thrive at SML. Several new ones have recently opened their doors to offer patients even more healthcare choices.
    Physicians to Children, which has provided pediatric and adolescent care to families in the Roanoke area since 1957, opened a satellite office at Westlake Professional Park in October. Dr. Adam Sarbin, who has lived with his family at the lake the past 12 years, sees existing patients at the Westlake office, and said he also hopes to grow the practice with new ones.
    “Our loyal patients are our best emissaries. They’re the ones getting the word out that patients will get quality care and trusted pediatricians at Physicians to Children,” said Sarbin, who emphasized his desire to work with established area health professionals to improve overall care at the lake.
    Sarbin said plans have been in the works for the satellite office for several years, but recent technology advances, including digital access to patient files, helped make it a reality.
    Joining Physicians to Children in Westlake Professional Park (behind Kroger) is Commonwealth Hearing, which relocated in August from office space on Booker T. Washington Highway.
    “Our company had originally heard about SML through the building industry when things were booming several years ago,” said Brad Nunley, a hearing aid specialist at Commonwealth, which has several locations across central and southwest Virginia.
    “We like to be community-based and, demographically, a hearing aid clinic like ours fits well with the area,” Nunley added. “It makes sense for us to be here.”