NEWPORT—In the nine months that Matthew Littlejohn has served as CEO of Newport Medical Center (Tennova Healthcare), he has accomplished several of his goals.
Upon assuming his duties last January, Littlejohn found a hospital with the “busiest ER in East Tennessee,” an area with “a very strong primary care community, one of great quality,” and a facility with a prime location.
He also found a hospital that transferred more patients in 2018, rather than admit them “because it did not have the medical staff to provide the needed services.”
“My main focus, initially,” said Littlejohn, “was to develop a complete medical staff and for us to become a true community hospital.”
At the time of his arrival, Newport Medical Center had “sporadic cardiology” (every other day) services and was lacking in orthopedic, surgical, and pulmonary physicians.
“Tennessee is the number one state in America for hospital closures,” Littlejohn said. “We (Newport) have survived because we are part of a network. If we stood alone, we would not survive.”
The local hospital is licensed for 130 beds, of which 56 are a part of the adjacent nursing home. That leaves the possibility of 74 beds in the hospital itself, but it only operates with “about 40” beds, because all of the rooms are private. “That is the standard across the country,” Littlejohn explained, “to have private rooms, rather than two patients per room.”
Littlejohn’s “biggest goal,” he said, was to recruit a pulmonologist, and Dr. Rao arrived in June. “We recruited him from Morristown,” Littlejohn said.
He also sought to “stabilize the general surgery” department, and in July, Dr. Jeff Matthews became a full-time member of the team “We also share Dr. Mike Tummers with Jefferson Memorial,” Littlejohn added.
Doctors from Tennova Heart are now at Newport Medical Center five days a week, with the addition of Dr. Robert Martin who works with Dr. Clint Dorian to serve local patients.
Dr. Angelo Sorce, who joined the hospital in February, is now the hospital’s full-time orthopedic doctor.
“Probably the most difficult goal to achieve was finding a neurologist,” Littlejohn continued. “Neurologists are the most in-demand specialists and have the shortest supply. Dr. Arvo Kanna joined our medical staff recently, coming from Greeneville.”
Concerned that the local hospital has not had an OB/GYN for about 15 years, Littlejohn said Dr. Jeanette Toney and Dr. William Harris are now with the hospital. “This was a missing basic primary care specialty,” he said.
Now that these goals have been met, Littlejohn said, his next goal is to educate the community on “what services we have. Our hospital’s stability is based on the community’s support. If people continue to go elsewhere for specialized services, we’re in trouble.
“Newport Medical Center now has more specialists than LeConte, Morristown, or Greeneville,” he said.
These specialists also include pathologist Dr. Paul Eberts, oncologist Dr. Russell Devore, radiologist Dr. Broome, and trained breast surgeon Dr. Aaron Margulies.
“As a team, these doctors review a patient’s case and hold a treatment conference,” said Littlejohn. “Working with them is Ashley Thomas, RN, “a breast navigator, who serves as a resource for women on the journey of breast cancer. Such patients need a friend, such as Ashley, who knows the system.”
To help the community become more educated about Newport Medical Center’s services, Littlejohn said he wants the hospital to be “more visible in the community. We’re supporting Options Pregnancy and Empower Cocke County, and we’ve had several Lunch-n-Learns for EMS workers and firefighters. We’re also working with the local primary care doctors to establish the community’s trust.”
“It’s the community’s choice,” he said, “whether to be a true community hospital or a free standing ER.”