NFCH offers ‘gold standard’ COVID testing, marks continuing growth

Like most healthcare facilities, Northwest Florida Community Hospital had to adapt quickly as COVID-19 changed much about how healthcare was provided in the last year, but as NFCH rose to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the hospital also discovered a new opportunity for growth.

CEO Michael Kozar said the mission to provide local residents with the gold standard of COVID testing resulted in a network of new professional relationships that will continue to be a boon for years to come.

“We performed more than 15,000 drive-through COVID tests in 2020,” said Kozar. “What we were seeing with sending those tests out to outside labs was that the delay could take anywhere from a week to ten days for results to come back, making tested individuals have to wait that much longer to know if they could go to work.”

Kozar and his staff began looking for a better way to get faster, accurate results to their patients.

“We embarked on getting the top-of-the-line testing capability and purchased two Thermo Fisher analyzers and extractors which allowed us to start doing PCR testing, the most definitive test out there.”

Also called a molecular test, this COVID-19 test is considered more reliable than the commonly antigen tests because it detects genetic material of the virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Since expanding their lab to include the new technology, NFCH has hired several new lab technicians and performed more than 51,000 in-house PCR tests in 2020.

“It’s been a tremendous boost for the community because we are now able to have results in 24 hours. Patients have answers faster,” said Kozar.

In addition to testing locally, NFCH has also been sought-after to process tests for other healthcare facilities across the nation, having partnered with Signature Healthcare for testing in their nursing homes in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, as well as other hospitals and labs.

Kozar says not only has this gold standard of testing helped solidify the hospital financially, it established a new revenue stream that will remain long after the demand for COVID testing is lessens.

“After COVID testing begins to wind down, our plan is to utilize that equipment for other diagnostic testing,” he explained. “We’re excited about where we are going with our laboratory.

The laboratory isn’t the only thing growing at NFCH, however.

In 2020, the hospital added an urgent care clinic at the campus of the old Campbellton-Graceville Hospital, which NFCH acquired in 2018. In its first year, Graceville Express Care saw more than 3,100 patients.

NFCH saw orthopedic services grow by 157 percent in 2020, and its infusion service patient roster grew from 51 in 2019 to 469 in 2020.

Overall surgery volume has grown tremendously as well – more than 33 percent in the last year.

Kozar states pediatric dentists have recently begun utilizing NFCH operating rooms for surgeries requiring general anesthesia with 278 pediatric dental surgeries performed in 2020.

The campus is working to grow a variety of other services as well, including pulmonology, gynecology, and cardiology. The hospital has also added more family medicine practitioners to its clinics, a fulltime ENT, and a pediatrician, who will have an office opening in Chipley soon.

Kozar says NFCH strives to make comprehensive healthcare more widely available, a goal illustrated by another work in progress: Washington County’s School Telemedicine Project.

“We partnered with Washington County schools to provide telemedicine services at the middle and high schools for both students and staff,” said Kozar. “We have the capability for them to be linked with our clinic so they can do telemedicine at the property.”

Still in its infancy, that link is facilitated by telemedicine equipment on a cart at the schools under the supervision of a school telemedicine nurse, and parents will have the opportunity to opt-in to the service. The service should be fully operational by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

Meanwhile, Kozar says NFCH is excited about what the future holds.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction we’re going, the growth we’re seeing, and the services we’re adding for the community.”

This article originally appeared on Washington County News: NFCH offers ‘gold standard’ COVID testing, marks continuing growth