Part Two: An Interview with CMC CEO Tommy Johnson
By Will Johnson
CROCKETT – In late June of 2017, Timberlands Healthcare closed its doors, abruptly pulled up stakes in Houston County and left the oldest county in Texas without a hospital.
The future of healthcare in Houston County looked grim but through the efforts of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors, a pair of doctors from the Austin area, Dr. Subir Chhikara and Dr. Kelly Tjelemand, was found who were willing to take a chance on the empty healthcare center.
On July 31/Aug. 1, 2018, a new hospital – under the name of Crockett Medical Center (CMC) – opened its doors to area residents and a year later CMC is going strong.
Another of the driving forces behind the hospital’s success is CMC’s CEO Tommy Johnson who was added to the team in January of this year.
In part one of this article, Johnson spoke about how the hospital was resurrected and how like a young colt, it had started to gets its legs underneath itself. Part two will cover what services the hospital currently offers and where Johnson sees the hospital going in the future.
“Roles are growing and expanding,” Johnson said in regard to the services offered by CMC. “With each one you find, you peripherals which grow from that. The clinic is where it all got started.”
The clinic has the family practice with nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants, he explained.
“Specialty-wise, we have an orthopedic surgeon. We have a neurosurgeon who will do back and spine care. He can also do pain management through long-term therapy. Just because he is a neurosurgeon doesn’t mean he always has to do surgery. There can be therapies, there can be different types of injections and he will be here once a month. That will be a smaller growth, probably, because there’s just not a big population for that. There is a need for it, however,” he said.
The CEO said in conjunction with the neurosurgeon is the therapy and rehabilitation department where both physical and occupational therapies are administered.
“It’s fairly busy. We have quite a few who come through there. Those are all components of recovery, even from an orthopedic surgery. You need to be able to go to a therapist and get those joints working or start building new bone from a fracture,” Johnson explained.
Another specialty available at the hospital involves gastro-intestinal treatment. According to Johnson, the hospital has a gastro-intestinal interventionist who visits Crockett every other week.
“He can do colonoscopies, EGDs (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) and all of the preventive and diagnostic tests. That’s a fairly new service that has been here about six weeks. We are ramping that up to do fairly well,” he said.
The hospital also provides cardiology care along with both physical and chemical stress tests.
“The treadmill test – we have some new technology – it’s amazing what it can do. All the data channels through the treadmill and all you have to do is go back there and watch it,” he said.
One of the more anticipated specialties soon to be available at the hospital will be mammography. The Houston County Hospital District, the city of Crockett, Houston County and Drs. Chhikara and Tjelemand joined together to secure a grant with which to purchase a state-of-art mammography machine.
“I think they’re shooting for a start date of Aug. 19 for the install. We would like to have it up and running before Oct. 1 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It will be a great addition to women’s services here,” he explained.
Johnson added the hospital also offers urology services through Dr. Jeffrey Kroll.
“He can treat all types of urological things from prostate cancer to kidney stones. We also have an agreement to do laser lithotripsy which is laser breakage of the stones,” he said.
“We have some really good specialists here. We have people who are driven and want to do things for this community. Some were here before and committed to come back to an unknown environment. It’s always an unknown when you’re trying to re-open, however, they were willing to commit and make it work for the community,” he said.
CMC also has a nephrologist – a doctor who specializes in kidney health and kidney disease – who visits every other week.
One specialty area CMC has not yet incorporated is oncology – or the branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
“Oncology is a tough specialty to try and do locally,” Johnson said. “It changes and grows so much every day. There are experimental medicines, some that are experimental but getting approved and having the training to deliver that is going to be hard on a rural basis. What we can do is service the patient to get them to the places they need.”
He added, “I don’t know that we will ever be able to offer the level of oncology people need in such a rural setting. Sometimes doctors get in there, take a look and then say we need to get you into surgery right now. We would not be capable of doing that and I wouldn’t ask you to let us do that to your family. I would prefer to get the patient somewhere, get it done and then provide the follow-up by coordinating all the care for them – to be the local manager of their care to make sure they are getting to the type of services they need.”
Changing topics, the hospital administrator was asked what he envisioned for CMC’s second year.
“I think probably the next step is to solidify what we’re doing. We hope to get the volumes up to have those guys (specialists) here more than once a week. We’re seeing more of the patient’s longevity, needs over time and establishing that continuity of care. They are seeing their primary provider here and they’re being referred to the specialists they work with daily. That is how you build a really solid model of the patient moving through a system where their issues are known and taken care of. I think within the next year that’s where our focus will be in growing that volume and to solidify how those pathways work,” he said.
Johnson was also asked about the hospital’s reputation over the last several years and if CMC had been able to make any headway in turning it around.
“I think so,” he replied. “We’ve had our ups and downs. There have been challenges and rewards. I think getting the culture stabilized has been a challenge. Trust – trusting that we will be here. There have been so many rural facilities that have shut down. To see one re-open is almost beyond belief. To see it re-open and stay around has been an even bigger reality. We’re here to stay and we’re going to do everything we can to build up our reputation. Gaining that trust back is the challenge.”
He added the lack of trust was understandable given area residents “… invested their health and their faith in places three different times and it went away or it changed or it wasn’t what they needed. We want to bridge that gap, earn that trust, but it takes time.”
“Stick with us. Have faith in us. Support us.” Johnson said. “We are a long-term commitment to the community and if the community can commit to us over the long-term, we can make this a good organization which will be very beneficial to the community as a whole.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.