Welsh would be the first to share credit, with his board of trustees and the hospital's doctors and staff, certainly, but also with hundreds of Robesonians who raised their voices behind the effort. But Welsh was the effort's point man, and he understood that each setback was really just a road map that offered another route to success.
Welsh refused to accept that Robesonians, who suffer disproportionately with heart disease, do not deserve first-rate care offered locally. It's true there are heart-surgery options nearer than Duke Medical, but 80 percent of Southeastern Regional's heart patients in need of surgery opt for the two-hour drive to Durham and the comfort that comes with being treated at one of the world's best hospitals.
Welsh and the hospital's trustees decided to take advantage of a longtime relationship with Duke Medical, which basically agreed to export its expertise. If all goes as planned, beginning sometime in 2005, the 500-plus Robesonians a year who need heart surgery will be able to have it performed at Southeastern Regional. That will diminish the hardship on these patients and their families.
The heart surgery unit will also boost the health of Southeastern Regional Medical Center which, like most rural hospitals, is in a chronic fight for its own life. FirstHealth in Moore County and Cape Fear Valley in Fayetteville are very aggressive in marketing their services in Robeson County, and Southeastern Regional must be positioned favorably to compete for health-care dollars. The heart center will boost the bottom line.
Although it took five years and a lot of ingenuity for Southeastern Regional and Duke Medical to win the Certificate of Need that is required to open the center, those hospitals' officials are correct when they say that the real work is ahead. Southeastern Regional has been plagued with staff problems, specifically a shortage of nurses, and that must be addressed before the heart surgery unit can operate.
But when Southeastern Regional opens the heart surgery unit, it will become just the 22nd of more than 150 hospitals in the state to offer those services. Its reputation as a health provider will be greatly enhanced, and Welsh believes that will make it easier to recruit quality doctors and nurses.
The hospital has three years to get ready for heart surgery, which leaves time now to celebrate.