Wound Care Center (copy)

The staff of Russell Medical Wound Care Center pose for a photograph . Pictured are Stacey Fuller, Olyvia Clayton, Bentia Stowes, Melissa Abrams, Brittany Bolt, Alex Klimoski, Karen Treadwell and Dr. Regina Phillips. The wound center is now using new technology allowing for better patient care through more accurate and efficient measurements of wounds.

Russell Medical Wound Care Center has won another award but not just another award.

The wound treatment center is in the top 10% for healing wounds, winning the Healogics’ 2020 Robert Warriner III M.D. Clinical Excellence Award. Dr. Regina Phillips said the award doesn’t just reflect on the staff’s accomplishments through medical knowledge but reflects Phillips’ and the staffs’ commitment to caring for the whole patient.

“Making sure that their spirit and mental health is addressed as much as their physical health,” Phillips said. “When you meet people and treat them as a whole, you can minister to their spirit and you can alleviate the mental anxiety and fear. I think that is what sets us apart and our patients get better. I think caring shows up in the award because patients want to come back.”

But it’s not just Phillips’ contact with patients that has patients returning.

“I have a wonderful caring, loving team,” Phillips said. “We develop relationships. We connect with our patients, with their caregivers. They are more to us than a number. They are more to us than just Jane or Tom or Mark. They are somebody’s mother. They are somebody’s father or somebody’s sister.

When you as a patient come in and everybody is kind to you and loving and helpful and you don’t walk out of here without knowing everything you need. You have it written down in paper form. They are just like, ‘Thank you, thank you.’”

The wounds come as the result of other medical diagnoses such as diabetes and peripheral artery disease. Phillips said weekly visits over long periods of time are sometimes needed to heal a wound, something the COVID-19 pandemic made challenging.

“We stayed open; we never closed our doors,” Phillips said. “Our typical treatment protocol dictates that you see the patient weekly. Now you are in a pandemic, people are afraid to come, people are missing their appointments, people are getting sick and not showing up.

“We also had to cut back on the number of patients we could see because we were following all the CDC protocols: staying in the car, cleaning everything between patients, not letting patients be near other people coming straight into an exam room, minimal staff contact as well. Every single staff person didn’t go see every single patient. We were trying to keep it where an intake nurse, myself and case manager and discharge nurse which could be the same as the intake nurse, so minimizing their contact, were all that saw the patient.”

Phillips said the award meant she and staff were healing at least 92% of the wounds they treated within 28 days.

“It’s a challenge anywhere, anytime,” Phillips said. “It is a measure of your comprehensive healing rate which is how well you heal every single wound you see. There are other measures where they can break out the wounds. There are some patients we see and we are seeing them knowing they will never heal — it’s palliative or complex — they are going to need more than the four weeks they give us to heal a wound because of multiple medical problems like dialysis, diabetes, cancer and immune problems. We know when we see that patient the wound is so big and so bad that it is going to take us six months to a year to heal the patient which is way outside those four weeks.”

Phillips attributes the award to caring for the patients first, not just treating them.

“We try to make the experience so one, it takes away the fear, and two, helps them understand the importance of returning next week,” Phillips said. “The importance of doing everything we have told you about and because of that relationship, they are compliant, they return and they heal. I think that has as much to do with it as we what we put on the wound.

“Of course there are some wounds that take a lot of medical knowledge to heal because you have to debride or cut, do minor surgical things, but I really do think that personal connection works and they walk out of here knowing I care about them, the nurses care about them.

“I will get someone to call a patient to make sure they got home OK and they are not bleeding and not hurting. Something about her touched me and I’m just a little bit worried about her.”

The little things Phillips and the team also do helps the healing touch putting patients at ease.

“Karen and Bonita, our front desk person, they make sure we have patients coming through the door,” Phillips said. “They make sure the patient’s insurance gets approved. Nobody wants to go to the doctor and find out they can’t get anything paid for, they won’t come back. That seems like a trivial thing with wound healing, that is why you have insurance.

“They make sure the little things that are big things to patients, like making sure the insurance is approved so it pays their bills so they can come back or Bonita making sure they have a ride; we get them an appointment with ARISE if needed. Those are just as critical to what I do with the nurses. If they don’t ever come in the clinic, you can’t do anything.”

Phillps was ready to treat patients without setting hands on them for every single consult during the pandemic thanks to a small research project with Healogics just prior to the pandemic.

“We were looking at pictures of wounds and see if we could we from the pictures, before we ever saw the patient, whether that wound would heal in a certain period of time and trying to predict what kind of dressing to use and that sort of thing. Turns out we were wrong on one wound out of all the patients in the six or eight week study.”

COVID-19 slows everything, almost to a halt, but the study prepared the staff and Phillips

“Boom — we had telehealth,” Phillips said. “Now it was a relatively small study in the grand scheme of things. We were one of about five centers. We were looking at, but when you put all of the data together you could actually look at a wound through a picture or camera and still make a positive impact on that wound and patient.

“We have done that for a year now, especially for our nursing home patients, for a lot of our patients that just refuse to come to the wound center because they had home health.

Home health would help with Facetime, Zoom or whatever. We healed quite a few wounds that way. Now I had to see them the first time in the clinic. There would be times I would say they really need to come in and for those who were really afraid we would make special arrangements. They would be the very first patient; they are the very last patient. You try to make some accommodation to minimize their fear.”

Phillips and staff have gotten the center of distinction award from Healogics the last four years. The clinical excellence award is a first for them and the required healing rate makes the award challenging during normal times much less during a pandemic.

“We have a huge number of large wounds that are severe and in patients with multiple medical problems that make their time to heal in the months to even years,” Phillips said. “It’s quite the challenge because we do have a sick and elderly population.

“The clinical excellence awards says that you heal at 92% or greater of those wounds that walk through your door. We were actually able to heal 92% or more and that is only 10% of the clinics, about 60 facilities across the country meet that measure and we were one of two in the Southeast.

“Even in the light of patients not being as good about keeping their appointments out of fear and sometimes true illness we managed to exceed the goals and make this benchmark of greater than 92% of healing of all wounds during the pandemic.”

After patients’ wounds are healed, many send cards, even an Edgar’s cake to the staff of the wound care center to thank them. Phillips said it wasn’t just the medical treatment patients cared about.

“We had people we healed that said they don’t want to leave, ‘What am I going to do when I can’t see you every week?’” Phillips said patients would ask. “I’m like, ‘Well you are just going to have to have a cup of coffee with me.’ We have patients cry when they are healed. That is very meaningful to us, that what we have chosen to do everyday of our lives, that we are not with our families, that we are truly impacting someone else’s life. There is nothing like it, really isn’t. You know what you are doing everyday is making a difference in your community.”

Phillips said word has gotten around the community about Russell Medical’s Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine.

“It’s very common for new patients to come in and say, ‘I’ve heard such wonderful things about you. I’m so glad to be here. I know you are going to help me,’” Phillips said “I’m like, ‘Don’t put the pressure on me because everybody is different and I can’t help everybody. I’m certainly going to give it a good try and they know that. They know that I really care.”

And Phillips said she is not alone as her staff deserves the praise and accolades of the award too.

“The nurses really care,” Phillips said. “I have the best nurses; they are so awesome. They are so sweet and they are so smart, so knowledgeable and go the extra mile. I can’t speak highly enough of everybody in this facility because there is no I in team and everything, every single body does on this team matters to those patients from the front to the back. They are very valuable.I can’t do what I do without them. Everything I do is dependent on them.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.