Focus groups needed to discuss Swain ER changes

Swain Community Hospital is looking for small groups of residents to be part of ongoing focus groups to discuss changes occurring in the hospital emergency department.

On Jan. 3, the emergency room at Swain began using a new model in which the ER is staffed with providers and nursing staff for 16 hours of the day (8 a.m. to midnight) and the remaining eight hours will be staffed with an “in-house provider.” That in-house provider working overnight may not always be a physician — it could be a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant.

Although hospital administrators said the change would not impact the level of patient care at the ER overnight, some people in the community, including county commissioners, are worried about how the change may impact overall services. 

Emergency Services Director David Breedlove recently told commissioners he was concerned about how the change might increase the number of EMS transports from Swain County to Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.

However, hospital administrators say they don’t expect an uptick in transports because the overnight admittance at Swain is so low. Also, many critical patients admitted to the Swain ER need to be transported to a different facility anyway.

“The purpose of the meetings is to help our community understand the ED is not closing and will continue to meet the emergency needs of the region, said Lucretia F. Stargell, Swain Community Hospital administrator. “We had heard some lingering concerns from members of the community that perhaps some misunderstanding about the new model remains.”

The hospital did not send out an official press release to the media but reached out to churches in Bryson City, the Swain County Chamber of Commerce and posted an announcement on Facebook. 

Stargell said the hospital wants to keep the focus groups small — 8 to 10 people per session — to hopefully create an intimate conversational environment as opposed to a public forum. Focus groups were scheduled for Friday, Jan. 6, and Tuesday, Jan. 10, but no one showed up. Since the inclement weather could have kept people at home on those days, Stargell said more focus group sessions would be scheduled. 

“We haven’t had any response yet and we will add as many sessions as needed,” she said.  

To find out about when the next sessions will be held, call 828.488.4013. 

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