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Chamber hosts 2024 State of Healthcare & Business Expo: Future of Rural Health and Wellness

The Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce held its second annual State of Healthcare and Business Expo, presented by East Georgia Regional Medical Center, on Tuesday. The event brought together more than one hundred healthcare leaders, professionals, and resource organizations to discuss the state of healthcare in the Bulloch County community.
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More than one hundred healthcare leaders, providers, professionals, and area resource organizations gathered for the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce’s second annual State of Healthcare and Business Expo, presented by East Georgia Regional Medical Center, at the Jack Hill building on Ogeechee Tech’s campus on Tuesday.

The expo offered participants the chance to learn about healthcare resources, interact with vendors, win prizes, and network during the pre-luncheon browse.

The luncheon featured several key speakers from the healthcare industry who each shared insights about their work in relation to the future of rural health and wellness, the event’s theme. The event’s sponsors included East Georgia Regional Medical Center, Presenting Sponsor, Responsive Technology Partners, Gold Sponsor, and Optim Orthopedics, Optim Health System, and Willingway, the event’s three Silver Sponsors.

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Bryan Realiza of East Georgia Regional Medical Center served as the event emcee.

Local women over 40 at increased risk for heart disease

Bryan Realiza, Centers of Excellence Accreditation Manager at East Georgia Regional Medical Center (EGRMC), emceed the event and shared his observations about heart health in Bulloch County. He pointed out that local data shows that, unlike the national trends, for people in Bulloch County and each of the nearby counties, the population most at risk of heart disease are Caucasian women over 40, followed by African American women over 40.

He believes that a focus on education and outreach is important to addressing this issue and invited participants to attend EGRMC’s upcoming “Hearts, Hands and Heels” event on February 26th.

Regional Healthcare Update by Stephen Pennington, CEO of EGRMC

Stephen Pennington, the CEO of EGRMC began the regional healthcare update by introducing each member of his team, explaining their value and contributions, and thanking them for what they do.

Of Joey Fennell, EGRMC’s licensed professional counselor, Pennington said, “He is one of the best investments we’ve made,” and shared a moving example of Fennell’s work giving dignity and closure to an organ donor and her family as they said their final words. He shared specific examples of how each member on his team works to make EGRMC a good partner for other healthcare organizations, internal staff, and community groups.

“It’s every patient, every time, always,” for Pennington, and as he thanked his team for their work, he made it clear that their contributions, in everything from provider recruitment and accreditation to care management and clinical engagement, are what drive EGRMC’s success. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s what we’re here for,” Pennington remarked.

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Stephen Pennington, EGRMC CEO, "It's every patient, every time, always." 

Pennington closed by sharing some of the numbers in their 2023 Community Benefit Report. Highlights included 280,200 total patient encounters, $7.54 million dollars put back into the community through Property and Sales Tax, $87.8 million dollars in employee payroll, $91.4 million dollars in charity and uncompensated care, $12.4 million dollars spent locally, and $42,000 dollars spent on donations and outreach.

Dr. Nancy Hurlock says rural access to healthcare is critical as local population ages

The next speaker, Dr. Nancy Hurlock of Beyond Health Group, provided an overview of the population changes in Bulloch County and the projected areas of growth. As the population ages, home health and mobile healthcare will become increasingly necessary.

“This is our why,” Hurlock shared: 80% of people age 65 and up have at least one chronic illness, 68% of people age 65 and up have two chronic illnesses, and these chronic illnesses make it less likely for these individuals to be able to leave their homes for care, she explained.

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Dr. Nancy Hurlock speaking to the crowd.

Hurlock gave examples of traveling to see patients who live in remote, rural locations who cannot leave their homes. Were it not for a healthcare provider visiting them in their home, assessing their needs, and helping them get connected to mobile or in-home medical support, they would not be able to get the care they need.

“We have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of resources too,” she closed.

Patient data safety is critical, as is behavioral health

The event’s final two speakers, Tom Glover, CEO of Responsive Technology Partners, and David Gerber, CEO of Willingway, each shared messages specific to health and safety-related needs in the Bulloch County community.

Glover outlined the top five most common compliance and cybersecurity findings in healthcare audits and explained the importance of working proactively to protect patients. Responsive Technology Partners works to support local healthcare organizations in addressing these issues.

“The focus in healthcare is often on patient safety, but we need to think about patient’s data safety as well,” he shared.

He has an upcoming book release, a data compliance guide written for practitioners, that will provide examples and support for those interested.

Gerber was the final speaker and shared a powerful address about why Willingway’s work is relevant to everyone in the community. He explained their approach for the last 50 years, including the services they offer, from therapy to residential care, and recent innovations.

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The lack of behavioral health specialists in this area compounding with rates of depression, substance use disorder, and co-occurring mental health challenges affect people everywhere, including this community, he explained.  

“When a person goes into treatment and they get better, everyone’s lives improve,” Gerber shared. The community becomes a safer place. The roads are safer, families are safer, and communities are safer, he explained.

“Everyone benefits when someone gets help,” Gerber concluded and thanked the Chamber for bringing everyone together to discuss these vital issues.

Closing Remarks

Jennifer Davis, Chamber President and CEO, thanked the event’s sponsors and all of the attendees for joining them at this year's event.