Big South Fork Medical Center received a shot in the arm last week with the launch of a new, state-of-the-art CT scanner.

The new scanner, which had been installed over a period of several days, officially entered operation on Monday after a few days of testing, significantly upgrading the diagnosis capability of the hospital’s radiology department.

“It really is a step forward, not only in technology but in capability for different studies,” Hal Leftwich, the hospital’s CEO, told the Independent Herald. “We’re able to expand our capabilities in the area of cardiac studies, for example.” 

The hospital’s previous CT scanner, which had been out of commission for several weeks, was a 16-slice scanner — meaning it was capable of capturing 16 images per gantry rotation. The new scanner is a 64-slice scanner, with an accompanying workstation that can do three-dimensional reconstructions to give physicians a more detailed look at patients’ organs.

“This scanner gives us a really good, high-resolution image,” Leftwich said. “It’s faster, so studies take a little less time, and it has a special program to monitor dosage amounts so that we’re not providing high-level radiation to any one patient over time. 

“From a patient safety standpoint, from a clinical diagnosis standpoint, this is a major step forward from what we were doing before. The medical staff has been really happy to see it.” 

Leftwich, who was announced by BSFMC parent company Rennova Health as the hospital’s new CEO last month, said placing the new CT scanner in service makes a significant difference for the hospital’s emergency room. 

“It makes a huge difference in the ER, not only from not having a scanner for a period of time but also from having an older scanner (before),” said Leftwich, who made the transition to Oneida from South Florida and is a career hospital administrator.

During the approximately six weeks that the hospital was without a CT scanner, patients were often transported to Knoxville for diagnostic services that could not be performed locally, which taxed the Scott County Ambulance Service.

“There was a lot of extra activity from the ambulance service and helicopters because the CT scanner is such an important diagnostic tool,” Leftwich said.

That has now changed, and not only will the hospital’s ER physicians be able to make diagnoses they couldn’t during the time the facility was without a CT scanner, but local physicians and specialists will not have to send patients to facilities in Knoxville or elsewhere for CT scans.

“We can now work with other hospitals to develop protocols that our doctors can follow. We’re trying to make sure we can keep everything local that can be local,” Leftwich said.

A CT scan, also referred to as a CAT scan, is a special form of X-ray that help doctors see tumors and other abnormalities that they cannot visualize with an ordinary X-ray. The scans are used to investigate a wide variety of ailments. They can help evaluate the brain for a stroke or hemorrhage, the neck and chest for enlarged lymph nodes or glands, and the abdominal and pelvic organs — such as the liver and pancreas — for masses and other abnormalities.

A CT scan can also help diagnose back injuries, such as a fractured spine or herniated disc. 

The launch of the new CT scanner was part of a big week for the hospital, which also celebrated the grand re-opening of its cafeteria — the Docs Diner — on Wednesday. The hospital cafe offers breakfast and lunch daily, at a cost of $4 for breakfast and $5 for lunch. Meals are available to the public as well as to the hospital’s patients and staff.

“We’ve had a really good reception from the public on that,” Leftwich said. “The food is all cooked fresh here at the hospital, and we had 75 or so people come through just for lunch on Thursday. It’s good to see all those friendly faces coming in and enjoying a nice meal.”

With the launch of both the new CT scanner and the diner, Leftwich said the next step for the hospital is to actually take a step back and look at where improvements can be made next.

“We have a lot of proposals for modernizing the equipment in our lab, in ultrasound, in respiratory therapy and areas like that,” he said. “Our nursing service is always looking for ways to upgrade, as well.”

The hospital, which Rennova acquired out of bankruptcy from Mississippi-based Pioneer Health Services in late 2016, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Rennova, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based medical diagnostics firm, made its first foray into the rural hospital industry with the acquisition of the Oneida facility, and has since purchased Jamestown Regional Medical Center from Tennova.