MSHA Corporate | News Article

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mountain States' Medical Call Center celebrates 25 years 'behind the scenes'

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – It’s been 25 years since the Medical Call Center for Mountain States took its first call – way back on Sept. 15, 1992.

Since then, the Call Center has taken approximately 3.6 million calls, providing a host of vital needs like setting up patient transfers, handling Wings Air Rescue calls, serving dozens of physician offices for all after-hours calls, providing NurseLink phone assistance and much more. They contribute quietly but make a huge impact.

“A lot of people don’t even know we exist,” said Rick Newman, director for the Call Center. “We’re behind the scenes. But if we do our jobs right, it’s almost like we’re transparent.”

To mark the occasion, the Medical Call Center held a 25th anniversary celebration on Sept. 15. It was a low-key celebration, with catered refreshments and good camaraderie, including some former Call Center members who attended. Click here for photos from the celebration. But work continued even during the celebration, because like our hospitals, the Call Center never closes.

It is staffed 24/7 all year, including nights, weekends and holidays. The department averages about 1,000 patient transfers per month. It also effectively serves as a community triage line, with nurses who provide assistance for callers with medical questions, concerns or symptoms.

“It takes a special kind of nurse to triage a patient over the phone because they can’t see or touch the patient,” Newman said. “It’s all verbal, and they’ve got to figure out very quickly what’s going on.”

If the situation is an emergency, the Call Center will have the caller hang up and immediately phone 911, then call back to the Call Center for more assistance until emergency responders arrive.

They also make follow-up calls to patients with CVT (cardiovascular thoracic), as well as joint and spine, congestive heart failure and stroke patients after those patients leave the hospital. Newman said these callbacks have had a significant impact toward lowering readmission rates.

Physician offices usually rely on the Call Center to have a patient transferred from their office to the hospital. The protocol includes determining the most appropriate facility for the patient – with the right doctors, services and available beds – often done under urgent circumstances.

Newman has directed the Call Center for 18 years, but he said all the credit for the department’s good work goes to the hard-working staff members – both clinical and non-clinical – who make the department go. One team member, Sharon Nance, RN, has been on staff since Day 1, when the center opened in a small building on a West Market Street corner near Johnson City Medical Center. Back then, the team was named The Professionals.

That original location (and the original name) is gone now. The next location was on the seventh floor of JCMC. Since 1998, the department has operated out of the NorthPoint II building visible just off North State of Franklin Road.

Among the Call Center’s other duties:

  • Physician referrals
  •  Class registration for the Health Resources Center
  • Condition H calls from patients in the hospital who have a concern about their treatment
  •  STAR line calls for the contact number listed on our Mountain States website: 844-488-STAR (7827) for questions on a host of topics

Lynne Wolf-Bernat, a communications specialist, said the department gets calls about all manner of bizarre things. The operators there have to be empathetic but also from time to time must withstand verbal abuse from the people they deal with in crisis situations. It can be calm one minute, then busy the next, and the staff must remain calm no matter what the situation.

“We don’t always have to have the answers,” Wolf-Bernat said, “but we have to have an idea of where to go to get the answers. You never want to say, ‘That’s not my job.’ But we have to know a lot about Mountain States to be able to help people.

“You have to be a good listener. The person on the other end of the line is probably not telling you everything, so you have to listen to key words or indicators and hear the signs. You have to be intuitive.”

One difficult part of the job is the fact that Call Center team members only deal with the caller for a brief period, then have no way to know what happens to those people.

“HIPAA regulations don’t allow us to find that out,” Wolf-Bernat said. “That makes it stressful. These team members here are caregivers but they never get to know what happens to the person they’re helping.”

“It can be stressful, but the best thing about the job is the people you work with here. They truly do want to help. There is satisfaction knowing you’ve helped someone, even if it’s just for a few minutes and you never actually saw their face.”