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State senator visits patients and providers at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital

Sen. Frank Ruff Jr.’s tour highlighted the vast scope of care in South Hill as well as the challenges rural hospitals face coming out of the pandemic.

Three people meet in a hospital lobby. Senator Ruff meets Sheldon Barr and shakes Mark Hickman’s hand at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital.

As one of the largest employers in his district, state Sen. Frank Ruff Jr. recently toured VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (CMH). Ruff wanted to meet Sheldon Barr, now in her ninth month as CMH’s president, hear about the hospital’s priorities and see what support he can provide during the General Assembly session in Richmond. He serves District 15, which encompasses multiple rural counties in southside Virginia. 

While visiting key areas of the CMH medical campus, the senator learned about the quality of care directly from patients and saw the breadth of innovative technology available for team members to provide the best care possible. 

A group of health care workers speak with a visitor in a hospital hallway.
Wendy Farley, Senator Ruff, Mark Hickman, Karah Gunther, Sheldon Barr and Todd Howell discuss lung cancer screening in the imaging hallway.

“We do a lot of great work on lung cancer screening here,” said Wendy Farley, director of radiology. “We're one of the busiest sites in the health system for lung cancer screening. Tobacco is gold in our county, so we do see a very high incidence rate of cancer.” 

A group of people shake hands in an emergency room.
Janet Kaiser shakes Senator Ruff’s hand while Sheldon Barr, Tammy Mull and Dr. Wentzel meet in the emergency room.

Emergency room team members told Ruff their plans to provide more treatment options to patients dealing with substance use disorders and addiction. “When you look at the map of the latest deaths from drug overdoses, Lunenburg and Brunswick are two areas in Virginia with the highest concentration outside of Richmond,” said Barr. “One of the benefits to being part of VCU Health is we will be launching a telehealth Addiction Bridge Clinic as part of a grant VCU Health received to help combat the opioid epidemic in our community.”

In the Garland Birthing Center, Ruff met a couple with their newborn and learned about the experience of families who choose to deliver there. 

A group of visitors tour a hospital room.
Sarah Carlton shows Senator Ruff a labor, delivery and postpartum room at The Garland Birthing Center while Lori Landes, Sheldon Barr and Karah Gunther listen.

“Our goal is that when mom comes here, she stays in the same room until discharge,” said Sarah Carlton, clinical coordinator of labor, delivery and postpartum at the Garland Birthing Center. “So, their first bath, all their assessments and discharge screenings are completed in the same room. It makes it nice to have that extra time to bond and learn how to take care of the baby, so they know what questions to ask.” 

A group of people tour a room with a massage chair.
Sheldon Barr shows Senator Ruff the massage chair for staff needing a respite from a hard day’s work while Karah Gunther and Todd Howell watch.

Many changes have happened to health care facilities across the country in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including worker shortages and burnout. The wellness of CMH’s team members is the focus of the Lake Retreat, a room where team members can relax in a massage chair with mood lighting during breaks.
“Wellness has obviously been very important coming out of the pandemic for health care workers,” Barr said. “This is a place for our caregivers to take a little bit of time for themselves to rest and replenish.”

Recruitment is also a major priority. As team members detailed the ways CMH is working to attract and retain talent, they highlighted the launch of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Family Medicine Residency Program as a new opportunity to invest in rural health care. 

Being from the region, Ruff understands the challenges South Hill faces compared with a more populated area like Northern Virginia.
“We have to understand the differences and try to work together toward a common good because we are a commonwealth,” Ruff said.

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