September 2019

Expanding Access: Beaufort Memorial offers area residents new options for care

Author: M. Johannemann

Dr. Chip Fowlkes sees a patient at Beaufort Memorial’s new Express Care & Occupational Health clinic in Bluffton. The practice, located at 1 Burnt Church Road, will be open 7 days a week. (Photo by Paul Nurnberg.)

If you’ve driven through Bluffton and Hardeeville lately, you probably won’t be surprised to learn these two Beaufort County towns are among the fastest growing municipalities in South Carolina. The dramatic surge in population—coupled with a nationwide shortage of physicians—has left the area hurting for health care.

“People moving to the area are finding it difficult to establish themselves with a primary care provider,” said Beaufort Memorial Hospital (BMH) president and CEO Russell Baxley. “If you’re able to find a doctor who is accepting new patients, you may have to wait six months for an appointment.”

To improve access to health care south of the Broad River, Beaufort Memorial is aggressively moving ahead with plans to expand medical services in the area. This month, the nonprofit hospital opens May River Medical Pavilion, a 7,000-square-foot office building at 1 Burnt Church Road in Bluffton, featuring both a walk-in clinic and a new primary care practice. It has hired an additional physician for its other primary care practice, Bluffton Primary Care in Westbury Park, and is constructing a three-story complex in Okatie that will offer full-time primary care along with other services. Plans are also in the works for a micro hospital—a joint venture between BMH and MUSC Health—on 13 acres at the intersection of Buckwalter Parkway and Bluffton Parkway.

In addition, the hospital has launched new telemedicine services, allowing patients to consult with a physician via the internet for minor ailments. The virtual care service, called BMH Care Anywhere, provides access to a board-certified practitioner 24/7, using a smart phone, tablet or computer. Rather than wait for an appointment at a doctor’s office, a patient can “see” a physician immediately via video, expediting treatment.

Beaufort Memorial is also the first hospital in South Carolina to offer in-store telehealth kiosks in Publix grocery stores. The program that will launch later this month at the Publix in Buckwalter Place and will be expanded over time to all of the supermarket’s locations in Beaufort County.

“Our mission is to improve the health of the community,” Baxley said. “One of the ways we’re doing that is by providing residents with different options for medical care, both in brick-and-mortar settings and online.”

Express care and primary care
The newly opened Beaufort Memorial Express Care & Occupational Health offers same-day treatment for minor illnesses and injuries. The staff includes four health care providers, among them board-certified emergency medicine specialist Chip Fowlkes, D.O., and board-certified family medicine specialist Randall Castor, M.D.

Formerly with Georgia Emergency Associates, Dr. Fowlkes has practiced in hospital emergency rooms in South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia since completing his residency in 1994 at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Castor has worked in both urgent care clinics and a hospital emergency department. In 2013, he opened his own urgent care clinic in Bryson City, North Carolina, and later expanded to five offices located in underserved communities in the area.

Working with the two doctors are certified physician assistant Michael Petrillo and certified family nurse practitioner Allison Vigil. Petrillo has worked for 10 years in emergency, urgent and primary care, most recently at North Island Medical on Hilton Head Island. Vigil, a Bluffton resident, moved to the practice from Express Care Beaufort. Prior to joining the BMH medical staff in November 2018, she worked as a nurse practitioner for the past two years and previously as a registered nurse in hospital emergency rooms and medical practices.

Open seven days a week, the walk-in clinic allows patients with nonlife-threatening medical issues to be treated on the spot for everything from the flu, earaches and a sore throat to sprains, urinary tract infections and diarrhea. In addition, the clinic offers immunizations, onsite X-ray and lab services, and school, sports and camp physicals.

The clinic also treats workplace injuries and performs employee physical exams, drug and alcohol testing and screenings, including cholesterol and blood pressure tests. In addition, companies enrolled in Beaufort Memorial’s Well at Work program can send employees to the clinic for expedited medical services, reducing lost time and workers’ compensation costs.

The other half of the May River Pavilion will be occupied later this month by May River Primary Care, offering treatment for acute issues and chronic medical conditions as well as wellness and preventive care. The medical staff includes Dr. Nikki Keisler, a board-certified family medicine specialist most recently affiliated with Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia.

In addition to Keisler, BMH recently added another board-certified family medicine specialist to the medical staff at its Bluffton Primary Care practice in Westbury Park. Dr. Robyn Odzark is a graduate of Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and served three years in a practice affiliated with the University of Michigan Health System before moving to the Lowcountry.

Okatie expansion
Beaufort Memorial’s most significant increase in health care services south of the Broad will come in the fall of 2020 when the hospital opens the 70,000-square-foot Okatie Medical Pavilion. Construction of the “medical mall” began in May on a 19-acre site located on Okatie Center Boulevard.

“The building will replace the current Bluffton Medical Services facility in Westbury Park and bring additional access to care for residents of Southern Beaufort County,” Baxley said.

Beaufort Memorial has added two new board-certified family medicine specialists to its Bluffton area practices. Dr. Robyn Odzark (left) joined Bluffton Primary Care this summer and Dr. Nikki Keisler (right) will be joining the new May River Primary Care later this month.

Okatie Medical Pavilion also will include OB-GYN and orthopaedic practices, as well as regularly scheduled clinics with specialists in cardiology, gastroenterology, general surgery, vascular surgery and neurology. It will house a breast health center and Beaufort Memorial’s second full-service cancer center, operating in partnership with MUSC Health and Alliance Oncology. Subspecialists from MUSC Health will provide in-person and telemedicine consultations as well. Additional services will include outpatient rehabilitation, laboratory and imaging, as well as the hospital’s third walk-in clinic in the county.

“We’ll be recruiting staff for the facility and increasing area residents’ access to medical and radiation oncologists, primary and urgent care providers, GI and vascular physicians, and other medical specialties,” Baxley said. “It’s all part of our plan to meet the health care needs of the community.”

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