April 2013

Medical Section: Hospital's Hip New Joint

Author: Michael Paskevich

Total joint replacement surgery remains a last-ditch orthopedic option. However, folks left with no other option now have their own exclusive place for post-operative care and therapy at Hilton Head Hospital.

After determining a growing need for more effective in-patient care, hospital higher-ups and orthopedic specialists are celebrating a new wing that’s dedicated to patients receiving mainly knee and hip replacements. The first patient, a local man getting a new knee in mid-March, found himself recuperating in a high-tech private room custom-designed for rapid recovery and quick discharge.

Joint replacement patients of the past were admitted to rooms spread throughout the hospital, while the new wing features eight adjacent rooms and a staff that’s trained and equipped to address their special orthopedic needs. “Everyone in the unit—nurses, therapists and patient assistants—will have shared roles and an understanding of the total care of the joint replacement patient,” said Dr. Kirk Johnson, recruited specifically to help launch the integrated facility.

“Anyone who comes in contact with that lady with the hip replacement will know how to get that patient safely out of bed or into the toilet or hallway,” Johnson said. “That’s the way an integrated unit should be, and the goal is to get that patient recovered quickly, accurately and on the way home.”

The project, under discussion for years, began to come together in 2012 with the addition of Johnson, an orthopedic specialist with 30 years of experience at the renowned University of Massachusetts teaching hospital. He was joined in the effort by Dr. Douglas Scott, Dr. Robert Gavin Dr. Nicolas Michelic and Dr. Joe Tobin.


Mark O’Neil, the hospital’s CEO for three-plus years, said patients will benefit by having a better step-by-step outline of what’s to come once they make the decision to have joint replacement surgery. And the new unit signals continued growth for the hospital, which, in the past couple years, has opened new dedicated spine and breast cancer centers.

“We’ve got a great team here, and the new orthopedic unit is yet another step in our vision to make this a world-class hospital for a world-class destination,” said O’Neil.

About $130,000 was needed to widen doorways in hospital rooms and install special equipment to assist recovery and rehabilitation, said Kelly Presnell, the hospital’s marketing director. She estimates that about 400 joint replacement and other orthopedic patients will go through the new facility over the next year, with most having stays of just a couple of days.

And anything that gets a patient home quickly is a plus all the way around, Johnson noted. “It’s not because you just want to fill that bed with another patient,” he said, “but because hospitals are generally not a very healthy place to be; you don’t want to stay there any longer than you have to.”

That said, Johnson added that new protocols mandate anti-infection “space suits” for everyone in operating rooms, and he’s impressed with recent work by hospital teams charged with creating a healthy environment. “It’s all about taking the latest in technology and investing it in patient safety,” he said.

Yet there’s also an “old-school” element to the unit that Dr. Johnson said wouldn’t be possible because of “medical politics” in his native New England. “Here, I’ll be able to see my patients and be directly responsible for their care instead of turning them over to nurse practitioners and physician assistants,” he said. Staff nurses have consulted on coordinating care in the new wing which will be used by a trio of existing local orthopedic practitioners.

And the new orthopedic unit seems like the right addition for Hilton Head, where there are plenty of seasoned citizens and the median age hovers around 55-years-old. Recent studies were showing that nearly two-thirds of residents were getting joint replacement surgeries at off-island hospitals, usually in Savannah and Beaufort.

“What we have here today is state-of-the-art,” said Johnson, who envisions an orthopedics teaching program down the road. “It’s important to be specializing to serve the needs of the community. Now they have a better option, and we think they really do want to stay close to home.”

  1. This sounds great. Can you tell me if Dr. Johnson uses the anterior method for hip replacement?

    — Barbara DeMilio    Apr 27, 10:09 am   

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