Auburn Community Hospital: A Tradition of caring for the Finger Lakes community

While successfully managing pandemic demands, Auburn Community Hospital continues to embrace and support the needs of the Finger Lakes community with ongoing strategic planning, new programs, technology and services.

Auburn Community Hospital

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an immense strain on hospitals throughout the world, and Auburn Community Hospital (ACH), a 99-bed acute care facility, is no exception. However, as ACH continues to aggressively monitor and update its public health safety plans during new surges, it also continues to punch above its weight with steadfast commitment to delivering advanced, high-quality care while investing in new initiatives to support the health and well-being of the Finger Lakes community.

New Investment in a CT Scan Suite

On the Forefront of Technology

As evidence of their commitment to adopting the latest technologies for its community, ACH has received the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives’(CHIME) Digital Health Most Wired Award for the past two years in a row. CHIME’s Digital Health Most Wired award recognizes healthcare organizations that use information technology to elevate the health and care of their communities. In an annual survey, CHIME identified and recognized ACH’s adoption, implementation and use of information technology to improve patient safety and outcomes.

“ACH is extremely proud of the CHIME Digital Health Most Wired Recognition,” Berlucchi says. “Although ACH is a small community hospital, we pride ourselves in delivering amazing care through the use of advanced technologies along with talented doctors and nurses to provide excellent care for our patients and our community. Our Information Technology organization, led by Chris Ryan, is second to none and continues to apply practical technological solutions to improve the care we offer our patients.”

To earn the Digital Health Most Wired award, ACH has started to achieve meaningful clinical and efficiency outcomes by deploying technologies and strategies including cost-of-care analytics and patient portals. ACH has also implemented more advanced technologies, like telehealth, that expand access to care.

“Exciting things are happening at Auburn Community Hospital,” Berlucchi says. “We are making significant investments in new technology, equipment and people.”

Other investments include:

  • A newly established state-of-the-art Women’s Health Center offering advanced, comprehensive breast care, maternity services and more
  • Clorox Total 360 System for efficient, thorough cleaning and disinfection & The Purple Sun UV Disinfection System.
  • Electronic fetal monitoring, which tracks fetal heart rate without a provider present
  • Mako robotic surgical system for precise, minimally invasive joint replacement surgery and faster patient recovery
  • MyoSure Tissue Removal System, which allows physicians to resect abnormal tissue, fibroids and polyps for highly targeted biopsies without incisions for faster recovery

Assessing Needs, Improving Care

Every three years, ACH and the Cayuga County Health Department develop the Community Health Needs Assessment by collecting data and input from friends and neighbors throughout the Finger Lakes area. With this input, ACH can understand and implement or build upon services to improve the health of the community.

Over time, healthcare needs in the Finger Lakes community grow or change, prompting ACH to adjust their healthcare model to support the mental, physical, social and spiritual well-being of Finger Lakes residents. ACH and the Cayuga County Health Department identified priority areas during the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment: Prevent and treat chronic disease, and increase healthcare services for low-income populations. The partners developed specific goals to address these priorities.

Improving access to more affordable healthy foods and encouraging a more active lifestyle is now a top priority for reducing obesity and is being achieved by increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables and creating more access to physical activities.

To help promote Healthy Women, Infants and Children, a New York State Department of Health Prevention Agenda, ACH is working to increase healthcare services for low-income populations. A new Women’s Health Center with health education programs have been established, including:

  • Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies, a program that helps mothers access a wide range of community services that can benefit them and their babies, such as doula services, assistance with transportation, breastfeeding support from certified lactation counselors and in-home nurse visits for first-time mothers
  • Medically Speaking, a series of lectures covering topics such as stroke, cardiovascular health and women’s health and wellness
  • Women’s Health Expo, interactive workshops led by area healthcare providers and a keynote address

Pandemic Protocols in Place

Since the pandemic began, Auburn Community Hospital (ACH) has had a COVID-19 task force in place that meets daily to manage what’s going on with COVID-19 and emerging variants.

“We manage our capacity and staffing regularly — if not hourly — and are in constant contact with the Cayuga County Health Department and other hospitals in the area to manage any spikes in COVID and other health issues,” says Matthew Chadderdon, Vice President of Marketing, Media Relations, Public Affairs and Fund Development at Auburn Community Hospital.

To protect the staff and community, ACH has implemented special emergency protocols and services. Some steps ACH has taken include:

  • Applied existing comprehensive guidelines for infectious diseases to educate and direct employees through disease recognition, infection prevention, treatment, isolation and reporting protocols
  • Created a vaccine clinic for all ACH staff and family, including the Finger Lakes Center for Living nursing home
  • Expanded its COVID-19 testing capacity in coordination with the Cayuga County Health Department
  • Implemented a telemedicine option to improve provider access for patients
  • Implemented health screenings for all staff and outside visitors
  • Limited visitation in an effort to protect patients
  • Provided ample personal protective equipment to staff

“We hope our region sees more vaccinations and less COVID-19, and we will continue to advocate this,” Chadderdon says. “Our leadership team communicates regularly with our medical teams throughout the hospital, as well as all of the local physician practices and the Finger Lakes Center for Living nursing home.”

“We are fully committed to working with our colleagues to successfully implement and evaluate programs, policies and services in our community. We are committed to investing in three main services – Cancer Care, Cardiology, and Orthopedics, all of which are significant needs in our communities,” Berlucchi says. “Together, we will move forward toward improved health and well-being for all.”

Dr. Brian D. Tallerico & the Mako Robot at Auburn Community Hospital.

Enhancing Cancer Care

A new partnership with Syracuse-based Upstate Cancer Center at Auburn Community Hospital the only academic medical center in the region, strengthens and supports the expertise of the oncology specialists at ACH. Upstate’s program is ranked in the top 20% in the United States by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and is the only facility in Central New York accredited by the organization.

“We are able to provide very contemporary cancer care here at Auburn Community Hospital,” says David B. Duggan, MD, MACP, Professor of Medicine at Upstate Medical University and Medical Director of Upstate Cancer Center at ACH. “People feel a strong attachment to the hospital and want to get care here. Our ability to help so they do not have to travel provides a sense of security and comfort.”

Located on the hospital’s first floor, Upstate Cancer Center at ACH offers a spectrum of advanced diagnostic and treatment resources delivered by board-certified physicians and nurses with extensive experience in hematology and oncology.

“We’re very excited about bringing all of the resources of Upstate and an academic medical center to Auburn,” Dr. Duggan says. “The physicians we work with are highly trained and have many years of specialized training.”

“Bringing the Upstate team to Auburn provides that team approach to cancer care that all patients want,” adds Christina Sherman, RN, Director of Cancer Services, Upstate Cancer Center at ACH. “We want second opinions. We want to know what other doctors think. These are doctors who are world-class in their fields of expertise. This practice is built with the patient in mind.”

“At Auburn Community Hospital, our vision is simple: to provide the best outcome for every patient, every time.”
— Scott Berlucchi, President and CEO, Auburn Community Hospital
(L to R) Scott Berlucchi, President & CEO, Tammy Sunderlin, Chief Nursing Officer, Dr. Tanya Paul, Stephen Graziano, Chief of Upstate Cancer Center

Raising the Bar in Orthopedic Care

A combination of skilled physicians and advanced technologies allows ACH to provide top-quality orthopedic care for patients close to home. With expertise in a variety of fields ranging from hand and wrist surgery to sports medicine to joint replacement, ACH providers can meet the majority of patients’ orthopedic needs.

“When patients and primary care physicians can have the majority of orthopedic issues treated at a community hospital, that’s a great convenience to them both,” says Michael Wilson, MD, MBA, orthopedic surgeon at Auburn Orthopedic Specialists and Chief Medical Officer at ACH.

ACH plans to make more additions to the orthopedic group, including a fellowship-trained sports medicine specialist for patients of all ages and expanded capabilities in hand surgery.

“Roughly 25% of emergency department visits are related to hand and wrist trauma,” Dr. Wilson says. “It would be greatly beneficial if patients could receive treatment here for the majority of their hand problems.”

For patients needing joint replacement surgery, Auburn Orthopedic Specialists use advanced MRI technology and minimally invasive surgical tools, such as the Mako system. Auburn Orthopedic Specialists uses the most up-to-date version of the Mako system, making it the most advanced joint replacement surgical system in the area.

“Patients who undergo surgery with the Mako system can expect shorter hospital stays and less pain following surgery,” says Brian D. Tallerico, DO, Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Auburn Orthopedic Specialists. “Referring providers should also know that the Mako system offers increased accuracy with bone cuts and resections, as well as improved accuracy with joint implant positions, ultimately leading to better patient function.”

Quality Control — The Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval Accreditation

Even during the midst of the pandemic, ACH didn’t waiver on their commitment to quality services and patient safety for all. The facility has received the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission for the past 11 years on several quality measures including effective communication, health care associated infections, medication safety, patient identification verification and universal protocols.

(L to R) Dr. Tanya Paul, Dr. Loren VanRiper, Dr. Amy McDonald, Dr. Donald Calzolaio

Finger Lakes Center for Living

At ACH’s Finger Lakes Center for Living rehabilitation and residential facility — which received a 5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the third year in a row — residents enjoy safe, quality health care for both short-term rehabilitation and long-term residential care. To receive a 5-star rating, Finger Lakes Center for Living achieved above-average quality scores for health inspections, staffing and quality measures. In addition, the Finger Lakes Center for Living was recently named one of the Best Nursing Homes in 2021 by US News and World Report.

The Team at Finger Lakes Center for Living Nursing Home

“We are very proud of our nursing home for once again receiving this prestigious award,” Berlucchi says. “This recognition is meaningful because it signifies that we are providing an exceptional patient experience and continue to see great results year after year. This is a credit to our employees and the volunteers who play such a critical role in offering the highest quality of care, especially during this very difficult time.”

Furthermore, Finger Lakes Center for Living has had no COVID-19 related deaths, and ACH’s vaccination clinic for Finger Lakes Center for Living staff, residents and family also contributed to its 95.9% vaccination rate.

Retaining and Growing Talent

At Auburn Community Hospital (ACH), culture and teamwork are priorities. Recently Auburn Community Hospital celebrated Employee Recognition Day. One hundred and twenty employees were recognized with service to ACH from five years to 45 years. This says a lot about the employees and their commitment to the healthcare system and to their community.

It also is interesting to note ACH has a very low turnover rate compared to other hospitals. This event is a reminder of how important it is for everyone to support the current workforce and continue to strengthen and grow the team.

The pandemic has tested ACH, just like most hospitals. The headlines regularly herald hospitals are in crisis. Working in health care is a different kind of occupation. It is a vocation for many. There are challenging days but there is a strong commitment among the employees. Small rural community hospitals like ACH are the cornerstones of communities because they take care of family, friends and neighbors who live in the community.

Similar to the larger hospitals in the region, Auburn is challenged by workforce issues, especially during a pandemic. Recruiting employees, especially nurses, medical technicians, lab technicians, radiology technicians, and many others come from a limited pool. It can be difficult to compete with the size and scale that larger hospitals offer. However, ACH has a lot to offer including steady and stable employment, a welcoming culture and a safe working environment.

Auburn encourages employees and others to help recruit from personal and professional community contacts. The hospital is appealing for its pride and love of the community. This is more about their mission than economics. ACH is committed to strengthening their workforce and to meet whatever challenges come their way.

A New Contract

To further attract and retain talented employees, the board members of ACH recently signed a new union contract to increase nurse wages and benefits. The new union contract also benefits employees of Finger Lakes Center for Living.

“ACH prides itself on its history of union collaboration,” says Scott Berlucchi, President and CEO of Auburn Community Hospital. “We also recognize that the process of reaching an agreement during a contract negotiation is not always an easy one. We have enormous respect for our nurses because of their unwavering dedication and commitment to our patients and our community.”

“Not only do we take care of you and your family when you have health issues, but we are also the largest employer in the area and with that comes a significant responsibility,” Berlucchi continues. “ACH generates more than 1,200 jobs in this community and helps maintain and improve our quality of life in this beautiful region of New York State.”