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Community members pray for Russell Medical staff recently.

Russell Medical is one of six in Alabama and one of 455 in the nation to receive the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services 5 star rating.

The rating comes from a period when 4,586 medical facilities in the United States were battling COVID-19.

“We got those two recognitions in the middle of a pandemic,” Russell Medical vice president of clinical services Sarah Beth Gettys said. “We were fighting COVID-19, doing more than we had ever done in my entire career here and yet we were able to do it at a level to get these awards.”

The 5 Star rating is determined from five broad categories – mortality, safety of care, readmission, patient experience and timeliness and effective care. Under those five categories are many more sub-categories Russell Medical was measured on. But the standards from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is the same for all.

“We are compared and our standards we hold ourselves accountable are the same standards as UAB, Childrens and everywhere else,” Gettys said. “We are all held to the same standards by the joint commission by CMS. This is not something we made up.”

Brenda Duncan is Russell Medical’s director of quality services. Duncan said the standards have many parts and pieces.

“It is just a snippet of what we do for quality,” Duncan said. “Hospitals have forever been tracking data – quality measurement related to safety and quality.”

And it's all to ensure quality patient care. In addition to the CMS 5-Star rating, Russell Medical received an A rating from Leapfrog in patient safety.

Ralph Frohsin is on the Russell Medical board and chairs the committee on quality. Frohsin said quality is more than just making sure a patient sees a good doctor.

“When we first started, the committee was patient safety and quality but we broadened,” Frohsin said. “We think the whole patient experience is very important.”

That experience goes all the way to the dietitian staff delivering meals to housekeeping. Often the non-clinical staff has as much or more contact with patients than the clinical staff. Everyone is “hardwired” on how to interact with patients and their families.

“We control everything from the time they open the door and come in,” Gettys said. “We are in control of how that patient perceives us even if it is bad news. We control that they feel cared for and know what is going on.

Gettys said it is hard for everyone and not just the patients and families. But the Russell Medical staff works hard to make sure patients and families are cared for.

“It is a stressful environment,” Gettys said. “It doesn’t matter if you are here for a well visit, lab or whatever, it’s stressful for the patient and family. We know when patients come, they don’t come for the fun of it. There is a little anxiety. We need to help ease that anxiety at any level.”

Frohsin said he believes the awards show the dedication from the top down to create a great team environment.

“From the outside looking in, it is a terrific team effort,” Frohsin said. “It starts at the top. It starts with our CEO and Sarah Beth and filters down. It just meshes. If there wasn’t an emphasis put on patient safety and quality, then it would be like smoke. The fact that is so emphasized in this hospital is why (the awards) happen.

Misty Anderson is Russell Medical’s director of education, safety and accreditation and believes safety is at the root of it all.

“Safety is a priority at Russell Medical,” Anderson said. “Organization leadership, employees, physicians and volunteers work to create and sustain a culture of safety for patients and in the workplace. Our organization’s safety and infection prevention committee is a multidisciplinary team who meet monthly to focus on monitoring patient safety, infection prevention, the environment of care and finding opportunities for improvement with all processes. We have worked to develop a system approach to create a culture of safety by engaging everyone through communication, teamwork, leadership support and a continuous learning environment. We strive to engage everyone in safety and quality improvements.”

Improvements and upgrades have been made around Russell Medical over the years, including to its Davinci surgical robot. The Davinci allows smaller incisions, less anesthesia and less trauma to the body during surgery, making recovery quicker and easier.

Systems are in place to help patients in other ways too.

“The folks in the hospital work everyday to do things to decrease readmission, to make your chances of having to come back into the hospital minimal, non-existent,” Frohsin said. “They have tons of things they do to insure that. We have all sorts of things to prevent falls so people don’t fall out of bed, when they are out of bed.”

Frohsin said the awards are nice but the retired businessman said the awards acknowledge patient satisfaction.

“There is no better advertising than word of mouth,” Frohsin said. “We want it to be a positive word of mouth. We think we provide a product that nobody will have to leave for.

“We also have this huge population on the lake that are potential patients. We want everyone from residents to those here for the weekend or vacation, we want them to feel like this is great if they need a hospital.”

Frohsin has a friend who is experiencing Russell Medical after moving to the area in retirement. The friend used to seek medical treatment in Montgomery and Birmingham but is now using Russell Medical.

“They are going to be able to get cancer treatment right here and not have to drive to Birmingham to get chemotherapy and turn around and come back,” Frohsin said. “They are going to be able to come right here to Russell Medical. They were so complementary.”

Frohsin said there are multiple parts to delivering patient care that led to the awards.

“We are so lucky to have not only the physical plant with equipment and technology but also the physicians, the nursing and everyone else to be able to offer the product we do right here,” Frohsin said.

Russell Medical director of marketing Susan Foy said the same reason is attracting patients and medical providers to the area.

“The care is exceptional here,” Foy said. “We get people who come in with an emergency or get sick and have never been here before. They are really blown away at what they see when they walk in with what we have, the care they receive from specialists that could practice anywhere.

They are here practicing medicine for the same reason those folks are on the lake. It’s the area that attracts them.”

Russell Medical joined Baptist Health Prattville, St. Vincents in Birmingham, Jack Hughston Hospital in Phenix City, Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville and Marion Regional Medical Center in Hamilton as the only hospitals in the state to receive the 5 Star CMS rating.

But Russell Medical is not resting on just acquiring the rating. It was a Top 100 hospital in the country in 2011 and Russell Medical wants to get the recognition again. Gettys said the hospital is on its way.

“The standards changed some after that award, but we are getting there,” Gettys said. “We are not having a lot of erratic movements in our results and data. We are sustaining the levels. We have hardwired the process and the culture. We have been a Top 100 Hospital in the past and we strive to be that again.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.