Even before COVID-19, WVU Medicine in the Eastern Panhandle was making big changes. At the start of 2020 the region’s largest healthcare system was adding robotic surgery capability to its Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg and starting construction of a new medical office building on newly-acquired land in Shepherdstown.
In August, Dean Thomas took the helm as the President and CEO of WVU Hospitals East, the nonprofit entity that operates WVU Medicine. “I’m excited to be here,” exclaimed Thomas, who said he was attracted to the position by the opportunity to enhance healthcare services, in partnership with WVU’s academic medical centers, for the region’s growing population. Thomas brings more than two decades of healthcare leadership experience in Arizona, Louisiana and most recently southeastern Wisconsin where he developed healthcare services for rural areas of that state.
Topic number one right now is the pandemic. “We feel we are prepared,” said Vice President Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer Samantha Richards. Richards pointed to extensive planning and the benefit of being able to leverage key resources of the entire WVU health system for infectious disease expertise and personal protective equipment. “We need to be sure we are supporting everyone,” Richards emphasized, acknowledging the extra toll of the coronavirus on emotional well-being. “[The fight against COVID-19] can be quite tough and draining,” added Dr. Emma Morton-Eggleston, Dean of the Eastern Campus of WVU Health Science Center.
WVU Medicine is making more use of telehealth as a way to continue offering care when in-person visits are not possible. If there is a “silver lining” with COVID-19, said Thomas, it is the “rapid adoption of telehealth and remote technologies in a few months that would have taken the industry years to achieve.” Morton-Eggleston emphasized that patients should not delay routine preventative care because that can lead to health problems. “Absolutely get the care you need, and that can be in person or video.”
Despite the pandemic, WVU Medicine’s new Shepherdstown medical office building opened on schedule in September with a core group of general and family medicine practice doctors and a plan to expand into in-demand specialties such as orthopedics, endocrinology, and behavioral health. Dr. Morton-Eggleston, an endocrinologist, is moving her practice to be based in Shepherdstown.
Although not an urgent care center, the new location schedules same-day visits and offers walk-in vaccinations. In some examination rooms the traditional exam table has been replaced with a high-tech reclining chair that converts into an exam platform (demonstrated by Dr. Morton-Eggleston and a “patient” in the photo above), a welcome comfort for mobility-challenged patients. A striking feature in the lobby is an original painting by local artist Diana Suttenfield depicting the farmland that used to occupy the land directly across from the new building.
Looking ahead, Thomas plans to launch a strategic planning initiative that will invite public input to help steer the long-term planning for WVU Medicine. In the near-term, Thomas and his colleagues anticipate a continued focus on serving existing healthcare needs in the region while building out capabilities in areas such cardiovascular and digestive disease treatment.
The new WVU Medicine facility is located at 60 MacLaine Way (off Route 45 west of Shepherdstown).By Staff Contributor