HCH officials discuss COVID-19 during teleforum

  • Macon County had 296 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.
    Macon County had 296 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.

Highlands Cashiers Hospital CEO Tom Neal provided an update to the community on COVID-19 and the hospital’s plans to resume services during a recent tele-forum.

More than 100 callers dialed in to listen to the 60-minute forum that included HCH physician Patti Wheeler and new Mission Clinic physician Todd Detar.

“The hospital is also resuming expanded clinic hours, outpatient testing for labs and x-rays, and endoscopies,” Neal said during the forum. “We have also taken necessary steps to ensure a safe environment for both our patients and our staff.”

Neal cautioned against a COVID-19 backslide in the coming months. 

“It’s important to remember that there’s a real possibility that things could pick up again in three months, six months, or with the COVID resurgence, which we’re actually seeing now,” he said. “The very fact that COVID-19 is a pandemic, make it necessary for us to analyze that it’s not just us as a small mountain community, but we are members of a global community.”

Neal reassured residents that the hospital and its clinics are safe.  

“We’ve instituted protocols at all our facilities, as well as across the HCA system,” he said. “We have instituted a screening process for any of our facilities, whether you are a patient, staff or vendors… before you are allowed access to the hospital or any of our clinics or outpatient locations, you will have been screened and found to be clear of a fever and risk factors for COVID-19.”


Macon County virus stats

As of Wednesday, Macon County had 296 total cases of COVID-19 and 113 active cases.

According to Macon County Public Health statistics, there have been 182 COVID-19 patients deemed recovered and one death in the county.

On Tuesday, MCPH reported that an outbreak at a local nursing home has expanded to one patient and an additional employee. According to MCPH reports, the total number of cases connected to Macon Valley Nursing Home is up to five – four employees and one resident.

The resident is asymptomatic and is isolated at Macon Valley and the staff member, who is also asymptomatic, has been isolated at home. None of the positive employees will return to work until they have two negative COVID-19 tests, taken 24 hours apart.

MCPH employees are working with Macon Valley Nursing Home to conduct contact tracing of the individuals who have tested positive. MCPH officials noted that the facility is complying with recommendations regarding cleaning and sanitizing practices and that the facility does have proper personal protective equipment on site.


Detar introduced

Neal also took the opportunity to introduce Detar, who began seeing patients in the Cashiers clinic in May. 

Detar said he really wanted to put his feet into a rural practice with a diverse group of people. 

“I looked at several practices prior to coming here,” he said. “What I found was a group of individuals that are so committed to patients and so caring for quality and promoting the health care and prevention of the community, that I didn’t really expect that.”

Detar said the hospital staff helped make the transition from the low country of South Carolina to the plateau an easy one. 

“They’ve been really supportive, and HCA has been great in the fact that the processes that are in place are great quality,” Detar said. “I’m very committed to this community and to the people in this community and look forward to serving them for a long time.”

Neal said the hospital’s efforts to add physicians aren’t finished with adding with Dr. Detar. 

“We are currently recruiting a second primary care physician for the Cashiers area,” he said. “However, I cannot commit to when we will have other physicians. The reason is we need to be thoughtful in recruitment.