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KershawHealth centennial marks a continued sacred trust
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The celebration of KershawHealth’s centennial year is an excellent time to take stock and focus for the future. As always, the starting point must be our mission -- providing excellent care for everyone in Kershaw County, a mission that has remained unchanged for 100 years. It is a sacred trust, passed down by generations of hospital and community leaders who made the kinds of decisions necessary to maintain and support that mission. It seems appropriate to reflect on some of those defining moments in our history and the ways in which they have shaped how we provide excellent care for everyone.

During the Great Depression, the number of charity patients outnumbered those who could pay for care, causing a financial crisis for the hospital. But a county-wide fundraising campaign spearheaded by local leaders ensued, providing funds for its ongoing operation.

In 1947, the Camden Hospital was approved as a Blue Cross hospital in a new plan that helped families meet medical expenses through insurance. For more than six decades, employer-provided health insurance has been commonplace, and it serves many families well.

However, today KershawHealth must deal with increasing numbers of those who are uninsured as well as those who are employed, but uninsured or underinsured. And yet, treating all of these patients, regardless of their ability to pay for care, is a cornerstone of our mission. That is one of the factors behind the dramatic rise in charity care experienced by KershawHealth in 2012. It is also behind much of the current debate over the expansion of Medicaid in our state.

In the early 1950s, there was great debate over whether the Camden Hospital was a public or private institution. Reiterating the original mission, hospital president Robin Zemp made it clear that the Camden Hospital was “a nonprofit, charitable institution and for 40 years has -- I think creditably -- cared for the needs of the sick of Kershaw County without discrimination as to race, creed, or color.” Thanks to the vision of that generation, not only did the hospital carry on with its mission, but in 1958 it moved to the current location on Roberts Street.

Prior to 1967, ambulance service was provided by funeral homes. At that time, the hospital assumed responsibility for Emergency Medical Services from local funeral homes. Today, KershawHealth still funds and operates Kershaw County’s EMS. Being responsible for this critical aspect of care allows us to maintain the highest care standards -- from the moment an ambulance reaches a patient through the seamless transition to a board-certified Emergency Department physician. And in 2010, KershawHealth partnered with the Medical University of South Carolina to provide state-of-the-art emergency stroke diagnosis and treatment through the REACH telemedicine program.

In the ’80s, the board of trustees adopted a strategic long-range plan which allowed for the development of a new outpatient area, a surgical nursing wing, and the addition of one of the first cardiac rehabilitation programs in South Carolina.

The opening of the Outpatient Center and Urgent Care at Elgin in 2009 heralded a new phase in the provision of services and made access to care easier for those in the fastest-growing portions of our county. Current studies show that medicine is making a significant move toward community-based care, with a corresponding drop in inpatient and acute care. That is reflected in the rapid rise of urgent care, retail care, home care, and physician office visits. The success of the Elgin Outpatient Center reflects the visionary way in which KershawHealth is moving from a community hospital to a community-based care provider.

It’s ironic that at its century mark, KershawHealth’s mission may well be challenged more than any time in our history. The first challenge is the rising cost of providing excellent care for everyone. Second, the national debt and federal deficit spending  affect not only KershawHealth, but community hospitals across the country. Today, everything about how healthcare is delivered is being rethought -- who delivers it, where it’s delivered, how it’s paid for, and who has access to it.

There is an incredible and worthy commitment to the mission of KershawHealth in this community. As in the past, we must be bold in our thinking, not about what our mission is, but about how best to preserve it. That is the only way KershawHealth will weather the challenges we face.