A picture is worth a thousand words
Story by K. Andarin Arvola

A healthy hospital is critical for a healthy rural community. “In order to attract people to the area, the first question asked is, ‘What is your healthcare facility like?’ If you are unable to answer that question with positive feedback, you will not get to the second or third questions about schools and churches. If you don’t have quality healthcare, you will not have a thriving economy,” says Laura Nelson, CEO of PPI (Philanthropic Professionals, Inc.).

For those of us already living here, healthcare is of vital importance and sometimes shapes our decisions about remaining in the area.

Most of the coast’s residents follow the news of the Mendocino Coast District Hospital and are well-informed. They know that the news was bleak a few years back; there were many problems that needed hard decisions.

Although much has been done in the hospital environment to make it more stable financially, a better place to work, and with upgrades in patient services, much more remains to be done.

Currently, the Mendocino Coast Hospital and the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation are raising money for new equipment and facilities specifically for the radiology department.

The person in charge of the “Caring for our Hospital” campaign is Laura Nelson, CEO of Philanthropic Professionals, Inc., which is based out of Billings, Montana. Nelson has been raising funds for rural hospitals for more than twenty-two years.

She worked with larger corporations that refused to assist hospitals in rural America because those hospitals couldn’t afford their fees. “I then formed PPI,” she says. “Rural hospitals are the ones that struggle the most. I feel those who live in rural areas are not second-class citizens. They deserve to have access to quality healthcare just like those who live in metropolitan areas. More than fifty-five million people, 20 percent of the U.S. population, reside in rural America.”

One of the reasons Nelson feels strongly about this is because a rural hospital saved her brother’s life. She tells me that while returning home from a trip he began feeling (what he found out later to be) classic and serious symptoms of heart trouble. He knew the town he was traveling through had a hospital. He saw the bright blue sign with a white “H” and made it to the hospital where he stayed for three days in intensive care. “Were it not for that rural hospital he would not have made it,” says Nelson.

The first step in raising money for our hospital is to go to the organization, the employees. If the employees support the hospital, the next step is to garner community support. The more people, not necessarily the more money (though none/no amount will be turned away); participation is the key here. Next, outside sources are asked to provide funds that support the hospital’s goals.

More specifically, the participation with hospital employees was 80 percent. “That is the highest I’ve seen in twenty-two years in this business,” says Nelson. “This tells me that the employees care for their hospital.” To date, the employees and other healthcare advocates have raised $300,000, with more pending.

“Today, we are at $800,000 of our $2 million campaign,” says Nelson. “The Hospital Foundation has been giving ongoing support for the current radiology department.”

Within the community, “I don’t care if someone can only give the hospital a dollar. It’s the participation we’re after,” reiterates Nelson. Community support is of the utmost importance, she stresses. Outside funding sources want to see that the community is behind their hospital.

Nelson has found that everywhere she goes, people will make extraordinary sacrifices. “There are all sorts of things people are willing to do. For instance, one woman here said, ‘I’m giving you a hundred dollars rather than fixing my car because I believe in this hospital.’ This is what I call a sacrificial gift,” Nelson says. “One step at a time we can make a difference.”

Nelson points out what we all know; we need the hospital and people don’t think about it until they need it. “Another benefit of a capital campaign like this is that it informs people what services are here,” she says.

One of the services that has always existed is the radiology department. Radiology is key when it comes to saving lives, Nelson tells me, especially, in rural America. The capital campaign is for our radiology department to purchase new equipment and replace older existing equipment. Plans are to build a new diagnostic imaging center for both the equipment and the department.

Radiology is vital here on the coast, especially because we are so remote. The possibility of storm-blocked roads is all too fresh in our minds as I write this. There is much new equipment and procedures which can assist in diagnosing more accurately, and procedures have become less invasive with the new technology. Radiology has come a long way, says Dr. Russell Perry, chief radiologist at Mendocino Coast Hospital.

Dr. Russell Perry is the medical director of the Diagnostic Imaging Department at Mendocino Coast District Hospital. Perry attended medical school at UCLA, completed his residency at UCLA-Harbor Medical Center with a fellowship in neuroradiology and interventional radiology. He has been a radiologist since 1984, and at MCDH for four-and-one-half years.

“One way that a patient will use the radiology department is when a doctor sees that person; they may order tests and we can use equipment to better determine what the problem is,” says Perry. “Different technology looks at the body and organs in different ways which can lead to a diagnosis, and then can determine what treatment is appropriate.

“We can provide high quality, state-of-the-art equipment for our doctors and local (and visiting) patients. The ability to image/diagnose people is directly related to the quality of our equipment. Not only will the technology be state-of-the-art but the jobs will become more sophisticated and require a higher level of skill,” says Perry.

Because of past financial difficulties, the hospital hasn’t been able to keep their equipment as up to date as they’d like.
Providing a new facility will give the patients a better experience with, what is now called, diagnostic imaging. Many of us think of x-rays but that technology, while still useful, is not all there is.

Perry tells me that as with other technology, medical technology that’s been developed in the last ten years is useful, efficient and “affordable.” He smiles ruefully at the last word.

Radiology Facility
The new radiology department will house all new equipment and the entire department. “The design fosters an efficient and private experience for the patient from the time they come in the door to when they leave,” says Perry. “While it is its own satellite department, the location is on the hospital grounds.”

Perry points out that another advantage is that with a completely digital department it will be paperless and film-less. Other costs savings include no film costs, no need for storage facilities and much less labor intensiveness; no more finding, retrieving and filing films and documents.

Because everything is stored digitally, “one of the great benefits is that the information, it can go just about anywhere. If there’s a doctor with a PC, and the doctor has permission, they can access the patient’s records in minutes,” notes Perry. Medical records then become portable. It’s a great advantage. No more, “did you bring your film?” and having to reschedule an appointment after a several-hour trip to a specialist when the answer is “No.”

“With digital imagining there is no comparison between reading a report and seeing an image and being able to compare with previous images,” Perry says. A picture is worth a thousand words.

New Equipment
The leap in technology in the last few years has been phenomenal. “With a digital x-ray room, the radiation dose is less and much faster. The time it takes to do the x-ray is about the same, but developing digitally only takes seconds. It saves patient and technicians time, another example of efficiency with this new equipment,” Perry points out.

He goes on to explain the new equipment: Radiography and Fluoroscopy (RF) takes x-rays and has the ability to look at the patient in real time. “This is useful for gastrointestinal studies and angiograms and other interventional procedures. We’ll be able to do a wider variety of interventional procedures than we do now. Think of it like a minor surgery, instead of piercing the skin with a scalpel, it’s with a needle, to take a sample for diagnosis,” he goes on to explain.

I can only quote Perry when it comes to this sophisticated technology. “The CT unit is a multi-slice scanner, with sophisticated software programs that allow us to do a larger variety of studies with higher diagnostic capabilities. We can look at the data in different ways. Before we could look with one viewpoint, one direction—now we can look from multiple views. Picture a sheet of paper with a message on it. Can the message be deciphered by looking at the edge? No. But it can be read and deciphered from another direction.”

“For example, with the multi-slice capabilities, we can perform angiogram without invading the body,” he says.

“Compared to the current equipment, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) will allow us to do a larger variety of our studies more quickly and with higher resolution,” says Perry.

Other Benefits
As we’ve already seen, the hospital benefits in many ways with a new diagnostic imaging center. One of the most important is that it serves the emergency room as “front line” support.

Patients benefit by having local access to radiology. They save particularly in time and travel and again, medical records become portable.

Our local economy benefits with a new radiology department. It keeps dollars in the local economy by providing quality healthcare services instead of having to go elsewhere. A hospital with up-to-date technology keeps existing doctors from leaving, it also helps in attracting new doctors to the area. As Dr. Perry noted, jobs with the new equipment will become more skilled. With a healthy hospital, the quality of life of the citizens in the community raises.

Community Voices
Community support for our hospital is vital. As Nelson shared, it isn’t so much the amount of dollars given, it’s the amount of participation. Without community participation (that’s you and me), outside funding sources such as grants will not invest in our hospital unless we invest in it ourselves.

Three supporters of our hospital offer their different patient experiences; each demonstrates the multiple strengths of a rural hospital. Special thanks to the Hospital Foundation for providing the following interviews for use in this article.

Tom and Lonne Mitchell have been Mendocino Coast residents for over thirty-four years. Many residents remember their car dealership, Mitchell Chevrolet Buick.

As a breast cancer survivor, when Lonne “thought she found another lump…my nurse practitioner wasted no time. I was immediately scheduled for a mammogram and then a sonogram. Amy Davis (the technologist) even stayed through her lunch hour.” Though Lonne’s tests were negative for cancer,” a biopsy confirm[ed] Lonne’s results. “Within hours, Lonne and I were able to leave the hospital with positive results. We would never receive this level of attention and care but in a local community-oriented hospital,” asserted Tom. “Everyone involved made sure we didn’t have to deal with the fear of a recurrence any longer than necessary.”

A registered nurse at Mendocino Coast District Hospital for many years, Joan Hansen moved to the Coast in 1980.

“My entire family has been treated at MCDH with great success! And I’m no pushover when it comes to hospital care. I’m a nurse.”

Hansen’s son John saw several different physicians before being treated by Linda James; she was able to diagnose his problem.

“About six years ago, my husband Ralph had a major heart attack and was treated and stabilized in our ER and then referred to Dr. George Smith, a cardiologist in Santa Rosa for further treatment. After bypass surgery, Ralph is doing very well.

“Through my many surgeries at our hospital, I have had nothing but positive experiences and excellent recoveries.” During an annual checkup Hansen mentioned being tired and a bit short of breath, but insisted, “nothing’s wrong with me!” Despite her protests, her doctor sent Hansen for a stress test. Hansen’s “nothing” resulted in a trip to Santa Rosa to have two stents placed in her right coronary artery. “I just have so much gratitude for what this hospital has done for me and my family over the last twenty years. At seventy-five, I’m still working here and enjoying it immensely.”
Rachel Binah, former inn owner and lifetime community activist, has been working to better our local community and beyond for more years than she can count.

A few years ago Binah was very ill and experiencing a series of extremely unpleasant symptoms, both serious and very complex. Binah underwent rigorous diagnostic testing at the hospital.

“After a week of exhaustive testing at MCDH, I was flown down to California Pacific Medical Center. CPMC is a teaching hospital so teams of residents, interns, specialists and a highly skilled staff go over everything with a fine tooth comb. After looking at my chart, the chief resident said that in all her years in medicine, she had never seen such a thorough work-up on a patient, especially from a small rural hospital. My experiences at Coast Hospital have been nothing short of miraculous. It made me so proud and grateful to know that the quality of care on the Mendocino Coast is so terrific.”

Mendocino Coast District Hospital has been through some hard times but with many difficult decisions already made, it is time to continue supporting our hospital as it updates various departments. One of the major needs is for a new diagnostic imaging center.

Currently, “Caring for our Hospital,” a $2 million campaign to raise necessary funds is under way. We are fortunate to be in capable hands with Laura Nelson, CEO of Philanthropic Professionals, Inc. Nelson has spent twenty-two years serving rural hospitals with raising money. Those of us in this community care about our hospital and realize it’s importance in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. With Nelson’s guidance and our community effort, we can fund that new diagnostic imaging center.

“In order to be a success, we need the participation of community members,” says Nelson. “Every person and every dollar counts.”

To become a “Campaign Partner” or for more information, please call Laura Nelson at the Campaign Office at 707-961-4776.

Return To Cover Selection Page Click Here