Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read June 2021 — Located in Atlanta, Shepherd Center is a 152-bed private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. President and CEO Sarah Morrison spoke with Invest: about the silver linings of the pandemic and her near-term outlook.
What were some positive notes for Shepherd Center in the past year?
Shepherd Center’s highest priority was to keep our patients, families, and staff safe during the pandemic. Like most hospitals, Shepherd Center’s focus was to obtain enough personal protective equipment for all who entered the hospital, determine the processes for testing and vaccinating persons for COVID-19, evaluate inpatient and outpatient capacity, determine visitation policies, maintain adequate staffing while at the same time, continually evaluating any appropriate strategies to mitigate COVID-19. Through this disruption, I would say we had two key accomplishments. First, Shepherd Center never wavered on providing exceptional quality of care for our patients. Our outcomes continued to surpass the national average. For example, 94% of our patients were discharged to home, in comparison to the national average of 70%. Shepherd Center’s 30-day readmission rate was 4.5% while the national average readmission rate for the type of patients we see is closer to 20%. During the pandemic, we allowed visitors, but each patient was restricted to just one visitor. Even during this visitor restriction time period, our patient experience scores were well above the 90th percentile as compared to all other rehabilitation hospitals. I am so proud of our staff and leadership in making sure our quality did not falter.
Second, Shepherd Center prioritized creating a telehealth platform. Our leadership team initiated our telemedicine, telepsychology and telerehabilitation programs in 3 short weeks. This allowed patients to access our specialized care even if they could not physically come to Shepherd Center.
What role does the SHARE military program play in your organization?
The SHARE Military Initiative is a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on the treatment for service members who have served in the U.S. military since September 11, 2001. The mission of this program is to empower post 9/11 veterans and service members with brain injury to live with hope and purpose by providing high-quality, comprehensive and personalized rehabilitation care. This unique 12-week program has a dedicated treatment team that includes physicians, physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapy, nursing, case management, psychology and chaplaincy. After serving over 700 clients, the results have been life altering. Clients have expressed to us that the program helped them find a purpose in life again. We often hear stories of how SHARE saved a family, a marriage or even a life. This program closed for a short time during the pandemic but we utilized telehealth to keep contact with each client so we could facilitate each client’s recovery virtually. This program is now able to get back to full capacity. Shepherd Center is so proud of this program as it allows us to give back to the heroes who have given so much of themselves to our country.
How does your organizational culture connect to the community?
Shepherd Center exists because of the generous amount of community support we have received. There are many initiatives we have begun and/or continued to enable us to continue to connect back to the community. I will outline just a few of our initiatives. First, we accept admissions from all over the United States and Internationally. Second, our staff volunteer at various non-profit organizations across Atlanta without having to use their vacation time. Third, we offer our expertise to hold free clinics in the areas of recreation therapy and/or physical therapy to teach specific skills such as advanced wheelchair mobility and/or different adaptive sporting options. Fourth, we offer free on-line education to patients, families and other healthcare providers. Fifth, we strategically partner with other organizations to enhance the community programming and or the continuum of care we offer..
What is your near-term outlook for the Shepherd Center?
This past year, Shepherd Center, like other hospitals, recognized their respective hospital heroes – the front-line staff and their extraordinary efforts and courage to fight COVID-19 and save lives. I wish these sentiments would continue well beyond COVID-19. Healthcare is certainly a challenging industry where reimbursements continue to fall, and costs continue to rise. We (hospitals) are continually asked to do more with less.
Because of the challenges, Shepherd Center has 3 main strategies. First, we will increase access to our programs. We plan on increasing our inpatient capacity from 152 beds to 200 beds. We are still not able to admit roughly 250-300 patients per year because of our capacity. For outpatient, we will increase the space needed for our larger programs to reduce any wait times to get an appointment. Second, we will focus on innovation to enhance the recovery and independence of persons who have sustained a catastrophic injury or disease. Shepherd currently participates in roughly 80 research projects per year, but we want to be more on the forefront of medical breakthroughs and technologies that will transform the lives of the patients we serve. Additionally, we will leverage artificial intelligence and predictive analytics for our unique patient population to develop a more efficient and effective treatment program. Third, we will increase our patient experience by offering smart room technology in each room as well as offer more options for housing for our out-of-town families.
Shepherd Center’s unique model of care consists of culture, expert staff, enhanced innovation and integration, donor-funded programs and strategic partnerships that will continue to lead to unmatched outcomes and the best chance of recovery and independence for our patients and families. The best part of Shepherd Center’s future is that we will be able to serve more people who need our specialized services.
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