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Making a Big Difference in a Small Town

ELGIN, ND—Small hospitals, the centers of vital emergency care, face many challenges and typically struggle to obtain new technology on a limited budget. When emergencies arise, these hospitals are tasked with saving the lives of those who live nearby, assessing injuries, and making life-or-death decisions regarding treatment and transportation.

New technology is expensive and administrators are forced to look for additional revenue sources, which is why Jacobson Memorial Hospital in Elgin, ND, took advantage of a Helmsley funding opportunity to purchase a new 32-slice CT scanner.

Theo Stoller has been serving the small community of Elgin – population: 634 – as an EMT for the local ambulance service for the past five years and as CEO of Jacobson Memorial Hospital for the past four. Working both as an administrator and an emergency caregiver has afforded him the ability to see hospital operations from two perspectives: Stoller knows what new technology costs, but he also understands how updated tools, such as the new CT scanner, could help his family, friends, and neighbors.

“The biggest thing is that we are able to save lives with this new CT scanner,” Stoller says. “We’ve been able to diagnose life-threatening conditions such as bilateral subdural brain bleeds, strokes, and pulmonary embolisms. It also helps us treat patients closer to home, avoiding transportation to Bismarck – all because we have this new technology.”

Jacobson Memorial used to perform 225-250 CT scans per year on the old 1-slice scanner. After installing the new 32-slice scanner in a new suite within the walls of the main hospital building, that number has increased to 450 to 500 scans annually.

“Moving the location of the scanner to within the main building has had an impact, but having the 32-slice CT scanner is making the difference,” he said.

Stoller recalls one patient who was exhibiting obvious signs of a stroke when the ambulance started treating him roughly 35 miles from the hospital. They completed a CT scan and transmitted it to Bismarck to have a radiologist read the study and order a lifeflight helicopter. The physicians in Bismarck were able to read the scan and prep for the patient while he was transported on a 22-minute flight, saving valuable time in a life-threatening situation.

“The old scanner took roughly 90 seconds for a 1-slice scan of an abdomen with contrast,” recalls Stoller. “The new scanner is able to perform a 32-slice abdomen scan in 25-30 seconds, not to mention improved clarity. We didn’t use to take the time to perform scans, we would just do our best to get them to a higher level of care as quickly as possible. But now, the receiving physician is able to get the right specialist and support teams in place while they are waiting for the patient to arrive. This is especially important with stroke and trauma victims.”

Jacobsen Memorial is one of 78 rural hospitals that received a new CT scanner through Helmsley. This particular hospital has also taken advantage of the Helmsley-supported Avera eEmergency services, which partner their emergency room with specialists at Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. Stoller credits the program with not only helping to save lives, but also for helping to recruit and retain staff.

“Staff are afraid of coming to a rural area like this,” he says. “They fear not having the support or tools they might require in an emergency. Some of our medical staff wouldn’t be here without this program. We are very thankful to Helmsley for all they have done for our patients. We wouldn’t have the tools or, for that matter, the providers without them.”