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On June 23, several VCU Health community members celebrated the integration of VCU Health System and VCU Health Tappahannock after two years. Greg Hundley, M.D., chair of the VCU Health Division of Cardiology, offered remarks and met with community members following the event. Photos: Tyler Trumbo

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(Left to right): Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., chair, Department of Surgery at VCU School of Medicine; Liz Martin, president of VCU Health Tappahannock; Richard Farmer, board chair, VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital; Shannon Kennedy, Ed.D., president, Rappahannock Community College; Sue Vigneshwar, M.D.

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The event was a spirited gathering of health care providers, board members and guests representing VCU Health, VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital, and community stakeholders from around the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck.    

Strengthening Local Community Care

Bucking national trends, VCU Health recently celebrated the progress thus far on its commitment to building out a dynamic health system that keeps Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck patients closer to home.

It’s the opposite of what happens nationally, some say, when large health systems buy community-based hospitals but still send patients back to their main facilities – often miles outside those communities – for procedural care.

On June 23, the MCV Foundation and VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital played host to a spirited gathering of health care providers, board members and other guests representing VCU Health, VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital, and community stakeholders from around the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck.   

Inside the stately St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, perched along the shores of the Rappahannock River, conversations unfolded that have the potential to change lives within these close-knit communities that until now, have had limited or no access to VCU Health’s cutting-edge work.   

It was the first time many of those within the expanded VCU Health System could collectively celebrate a journey more than two years in the making.

Integration of the two health systems started with VCU Health’s purchase in January 2021 of Riverside Tappahannock Hospital, part of Riverside Health System, and all affiliated practice providers throughout the region.

Despite a global pandemic that threw the world – and a health system acquisition – into a tailspin, the transition finalized in March of this year when both electronic records systems were integrated into VCU Health.

“We have a passionate desire to build strong new relationships, vibrant relationships, internally within VCU Health as well as externally with our community partners, and I’m really happy that we were able, even through all of that, to build those bridges firmly through these two years,” said Liz Martin, president of VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital.

She applauded the community’s support and leadership throughout the transition, noting especially the hospital’s board of directors, who “continue to wake up every morning thinking about their mission to make sure we continue to enhance and support local community health services.”

The forged paths have already resulted in enhanced local care for cancer patients.

Under the MCV Foundation’s stewardship, the Jeri Sibley VCU Health Tappahannock Cancer Wellness Fund was established and fully funded last year by community donors. The $10,000 memorial gift campaign honors the legacy of Sibley, a beloved veteran hospital team member who died in February 2021 from cancer. The fund will support cancer patients by providing wellness and beauty services like wigs and head coverings.

“We’ll all remember Jeri kindly as we watch our patients benefit from those services,” Martin said.  

Beyond the bright yellow and black signage present at the entrance of VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital and its nearby urgent care center, the health system’s presence is evident throughout the region. VCU Health Primary Care facilities are open in King William County and in Callao, in Westmoreland County. Warsaw, across the river from Tappahannock, is now home to VCU Health Family Medicine & Pediatrics.

The long-term goal is simple: Keep community-based care in the community by creating a world-class health system that puts patients ahead of profits, said Greg Hundley, M.D., chair of the VCU Health Division of Cardiology and the first director of the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center.

Nationally, health care organizations often get involved with local community hospitals, “but they’ll pull all of that procedural care to the central place because those procedures generate revenue,” he said. “VCU is not going to do that – what we want to do is the opposite of what those other companies are doing, actually build out that care in the community.”

To facilitate that mission, he noted the hiring in May of Michael Elliott, Pharm. D.,  as VCU Health’s first chief operating officer. Elliott, who attended the Tappahannock event, was most recently with Centra Health in Lynchburg. There, he developed and launched a community-based health department that focused on health equity. While in that role, Elliott also oversaw a regional COVID-19 vaccination and education program.

Dr. Hundley said VCU Health’s mission to locally support patients with cardiovascular issues forges ahead. Five VCU Health cardiologists from Richmond will provide care at various times throughout the week in Tappahannock.

Highlighting the importance of leaning on local resources while also lifting the community by creating well-paying jobs, he said VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital is partnering with Rappahannock Community College to offer a two-year sonographer training program for high school students. Such jobs are in high demand, Dr. Hundley said, acknowledging at least 10 open positions currently within VCU Health.

Looking to the future, priorities will shift toward adding cardiac weekend care at the hospital and training the nursing staff, and further developing its ICU.

Eventually, Dr. Hundley said, VCU Health will offer procedural care on site that’s historically only been done in Richmond.

There’s no reason why people who need to be hospitalized with cardiovascular issues or need to have pacemakers checked can’t obtain those services and care within their community hospital, he said.

“Our heart center really wants to be here and really wants to grow and expand,” Dr. Hundley said. “We’re coming in and building through the community and we have a lot of plans to do more.”

If you would like to support any fund for VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital, contact Niles Eggleston, VCU Health’s assistant vice president for development, at niles.eggleston@vcuhealth.org or 804-829-2112.