A milestone of seven decades for a business is deserving of a gala so patrons of a community can have the chance to thank employees – current and former – for their efforts to reach such longevity.
When a mark of 70 years is met in the middle of a global pandemic, celebratory plans have to be altered. When the business hitting the years of existence in 2021 is the primary local stalwart in the medical health and safety of its county’s citizens, then that business’s relevance is evident today more than ever.
Optim Medical Center – Screven is that business in Sylvania that today, Sept. 9, has achieved 70 years of operation. When rural communities in Georgia have seen their hospitals shutter during woeful economic times, the medical center – be it owned and operated by the county government or by a private entity – has kept its doors open to treat and care for patients.
The brick structure on Mims Road has withstood its years of challenges, but without its dedicated employees throughout those decades, all the medical advancements would have gone for naught. Then and now some employees have spent a majority of their working careers of 20 years-plus at Screven County’s hospital.
A commitment to high-quality, patient-centered, compassionate care remains a constant for the bumps, bruises, breaks and illnesses dating back to the 1950s up through the current unprecedented effects of COVID-19.
“We want to be the beacon of health in our community. We want to be the first place for health care that people think of. We have people been here 30 to 40 years. We are built on their building blocks,” said Lagina Evans, a registered nurse with Optim Primary Care – Screven who now serves in administration as the hospital CEO. Evans herself started on July 29, 1996, and has been employed at the medical center for 25 years.
Evans said she feels “blessed to be at this hospital” as she is among those in the community who can say she was born at the hospital where the maintenance hall currently exists. Compassion, empathy and love has made what Optim Medical Center – Screven was, is and will continue to be, she said.
“There is more to the building. It takes every person in this building. It takes registration, environmental safety, the ladies who work in the cafeteria. They want you to feel comfortable,” Evans said. “The little small things become great things. Yes, nursing and physicians play a big part, but everyone plays a big part.
“We don’t focus on just the nursing and physicians. We want to focus on the whole process,” she said.
Optim Medical Center-Screven offers an emergency department; variety of diagnostic services like laboratory; ultrasound and CAT Scan; mobile mammography; wound care; and endoscopy services such as colonoscopies.
Additionally, for those who may need extra time healing after a hospital stay or surgery, Optim also offers inpatient rehabilitation services with its swing bed program and outpatient rehabilitation like physical and occupational therapy.
“Most people 99 percent of the time want to go back to what they were doing. They want to go back to church. They want to go to football games. They want to go to prayer service,” Evans said. “We can help with that.”
Evans said that in the 70 years of Sylvania’s hospital so many things have happened in health care advances. For example, a patient who had gall bladder surgery would back then be in the hospital 10 to 15 days but now the stay is less than 24 hours.
“We are a critical assessment hospital in a rural community,” Evans said. “Advancements have been made to the emergency room, but our care for you is still going to be the same as we give the best medical care we have always done. Now its in a more modern way.”
Currently, the hospital is in the middle of a renovation project that will expand and remodel the entrance. Also planned is a new and relocated emergency department to provide better access for patients and ambulances; better patient flow and efficiency; and enhanced safety, comfort and privacy. An enhanced ventilation system and more negative-air-pressure rooms will be added. Additionally, the hospital has a project to revamp its legacy park at the center of its campus.
Evans said she is appreciative of the community support given to the hospital throughout the decades. She said that backing has been very evident during the “crushing pandemic” as numerous groups have cooked meals for the staff. The staff’s workload has intensified because of the coronavirus cases.
“We’ve had so much,” Evans said. “People have been so gracious. We’ve had so much come from our community that we had to make a calendar for the meals. We’ve had so much outpouring of love for our staff.”
The hospital staff has a love for the residents.
“This is our hospital. These are our employees who want to give back,” said Evans of the staff members whether or not they reside in Screven County. “We have several people who drive from Statesboro and one from Portal here. They feel this is their community. I think the pandemic has even more emphasized the caring and the prayer.”
The staff has held group prayers inside the facility and the community also gathered in the medical facility’s parking lot on Aug. 22 to pray.
“They cared about each other and they came to pray. It is more than a job. They give so much more that people do not see,” said Evans, noting that some patients may need additional assistance that the staff has helped provide. “With the pandemic, people in medical office have left their office to answer phones. Other people have been changing beds. It is more than 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is giving of yourself and giving of your whole self. Your whole family becomes part of your job and what you do every day.”
Evans said she does not want Optim Medical Center – Screven to be known as “the small hospital” because the community can and have relied on the staff to provide necessary services.
“We have to meet the needs where they are at – rich, poor, struggling – we are able to do that,” Evans said. “You typically see people at their worst. Our job is more than just starting an IV. Some of them go to the waiting area to put their arm around someone and pray with them. They just want to say, ‘we are here for you.’”
Evans said growing up in Screven County she then graduated from the University of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia. While in medical school, she and her classmates aspired to work in large medical facilities in large cities. Her plans, however, changed and for her for the better.
“It was UGA and then Medical College of Georgia for me. We had big plans of going and working at a hospital in a big city,” Evans said. “I decided to come back home to have a ‘working break’ before going off to Atlanta. But then I stayed and have been here ever since.”
Serving as a RN at the hospital, Evans was promoted to CEO to succeed retired Suzanne Doscher.
“I feel so humbled for those who came ahead of me. So many who sat in this chair ahead of me,” Evans told the Sylvania Telephone from her administrative office. “Maybe in 70 years one my grandchildren may say, ‘my grandmother really contributed to this community.’ I just want people 40 to 50 years from now to say, ‘they did something great.’
The predecessors at the hospital have last names like Hawkins, Freeman, Lane and Kent.
“We are very unique,” said Evans, thinking about Optim Medical Center — Screven’s status in local history. “We are able to have a critical access hospital. So many small communities have lost their hospitals. We are going to have more for this hospital on the other side. We are hoping to come out and serve for another 70 years and more. Hopefully they can look back on the hospital dearly and they can say. ‘here’s to 70 more years.’”
Joining Evans with 20 years or more of longevity as employees at the hospital are staff who have dedicated themselves to the health of the local community.
Connie Wammock with Optim Primary Care – Screven has been in nursing services for 46 years as a registered nurse. Her first day of employment was March 1, 1975.
Donna Rabitsch of Optim Primary Care-Millen has been a front desk representative since Sept. 1, 1977, as she has been employed for 44 years.
Susan B. Durrence of Optim Primary Care – Screven has been a medical records insurance clerk since Feb. 1, 1986, for a total of 35 years. Alice T. Thomas of Optim Primary Care – Screven ED has been employed 33 years as a licensed practical nurse with her start date of Oct. 3, 1988.
Along with Evans, three others have been with Optim for 25 years. H. Kyle Gay, MD of Optim Primary Care – Millen has been a medical doctor since Jan. 1, 1996. Karen B. Anderson, a FNP-BC with Optim Primary Care – Sylvania, has been a nurse practitioner since Jan. 1, 1996. Cleveland D. Robertson, MT(AAB) Optim Primary Care – Screven, has been with the laboratory as a medical technician since March 1, 1996.
Angela R. DeLay, RPH, in the Optim Primary Care – Screven pharmacy, has been a pharmacist for 24 years since Nov. 25, 1997.
Dorothy P. Lindsey, an Optim Primary Care – Millen referral coordinator, has been employed for 21 years since her start date on Jan. 3, 2000.