Dr. Wiggins

Colon Cancer is a type of cancer that is very common in the United States. Unlike other cancers such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and others, colon cancer is one that is potentially prevented.

     A way to prevent the potential dangers of colon cancer is to have a test called a Colonoscopy.” In the 90’s, the National Polyp Study came out. Basically, it wasn’t just that it helped to identify cancers early, it actually saved lives. It was a mortality benefit in the neighborhood of 50-74%,” explains Dr. Travis Wiggins of Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah.

     Dr. Wiggins continues, “We have seen a 2-3% rate of reduction in the amount of colon cancers diagnosed in the US in the last 20 years. A large part of this is due to colon screening initiatives.”

     In 2000, The CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) started covering colonoscopies for cancer screening. Since then, the US has enjoyed a reduction in the amount of colon cancers diagnosed within a single calendar year.

     In recent months, another type of test that is helpful for colon cancer screenings has emerged.  It is called FIT  (Fecal Immunochemical Test). FIT is noninvasive and tests for blood in the stool. This test, if done consistently on an annual basis, can serve as a good tool for early detection and prevention.

     If the FIT is positive, a patient must then have a colonoscopy. Dr. Wiggins highly recommends that anyone with a personal history or family history of colon issues to have a colonoscopy. “If you are experiencing bleeding, a change in bowel habits or any other higher risk symptoms, FIT is not an option.  A colonoscopy is the recommended way to go.” says Dr. Wiggins.

     A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a close look inside the colon and rectum. A thin, hollow, lighted tube with a tiny video camera on the end is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a TV screen. The exam takes about 30 minutes and the patients are given medicine to help them relax and sleep during the procedure.

     Colon cancer screening should typically start at the age of 50. Some of the newer guidelines recommend screening the African American population starting at the age of 45. If a patient has an increased risk of colon cancer screenings should start at 40, and in some cases of family history, even younger.

     Dr. Wiggins is affiliated with all the hospitals in Savannah, but every Wednesday you’ll find him in Springfield at Effingham Hospital. He is board certified in Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Internal Medicine.

     Special areas of concentration for Dr. Wiggins are colon cancer screening, reflux disease, pancreatic and biliary diseases and radiofrequency ablation for Barrett’s esophagus.

     Dr. Wiggins is very much a family man.  He and wife, Jennifer, have three sons that he lovingly calls “The A Team,” Austin, Alex and Andrew. He is very involved with his boys and is a coach for a 7th grade basketball team and an 8U baseball team.  He laughingly says, “I am a coach with hobby of being a Gastroenterologist.”

     He and his entire family will be participating in the upcoming ‘Get Your Rear in Gear’ 5K hosted by the Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion.  Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah is in its 7th year of being one of the presenting sponsors. “This is a very worthwhile cause.  All proceeds of the event will be used to provide screening kits and colonoscopies for low income and underserved patients in our area,” says Dr. Wiggins.

     You can schedule an appointment to see Dr. Wiggins in the Physicians Center at Effingham Hospital by calling his office at (912)354-9447.

Stroller Strong Moms

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Shelia Scott

Apryl Lee, a Savannah native, is the owner and coach of Stroller Strong Moms and has lived in Effingham for about five years. Apryl and her husband, Justin, have two little darlings, their daughter Ryan, 3, and son Jack, 2.

     Interestingly enough, Apryl had a rewarding career as a Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit Nurse (CVICU) prior to committing herself to her current endeavors. She wholeheartedly understands the challenges that moms can face when making decisions about leaving their new little ones to return to work. She, too, faced those same difficulties. However, Apryl explains that when she “looked into Ryan’s eyes,” it was a done deal.

     Regarding her decision to become a stay-at-home mom, she confidently remarks, “I would never, ever change it.”

     All-in-all, Stroller Strong Moms strives “to inspire a tribe of strong moms” while also pushing “that person to be more than they thought they could be.” In September 2011, Alexa Smith from Columbus, Georgia wanted to start a distinct fitness class for moms, as she had recently become a mother herself. As a long-time fitness and soccer coach, Alexa wanted to use her athletic skills in a way that would help moms stay active. Hence, she created a stroller fitness class, allowing moms the convenience of having their babies and toddlers outside with them while working out and allowing the children to see them making healthy choices. Alexa, a military wife, later moved to Savannah and started an affiliate branch. Actually, most affiliates are coached by “military moms,” as majority are on military bases. In fact, Apryl, having affiliate groups in both Effingham and Statesboro, is one of the few civilian owners in the organization.

     Stroller Strong Moms has grown rapidly over the years, and its popularity has spread across the country. Presently, there are a multitude of affiliates throughout the United States. Georgia alone has branches in Effingham, Savannah, Statesboro and Columbus.

Apryl began her journey with the organization in December 2014; she started in the Savannah branch when her daughter was 8 weeks old. Shortly thereafter, Apryl found that she was pregnant with her son. She still continued to work out throughout her entire pregnancy.

     She insists, “It really helped me push through forty weeks of pregnancy.” Apryl is still incredibly grateful for all that the group provided, even advice and assistance with “first time mom things like teething.”

     She knows that the benefits of the group are priceless; she wants women to embrace the beauty of motherhood, along with the value of fitness, while “empowering women to feel good about themselves.” That said, Apryl knows that there are often “outside pressures associated with having babies–getting your body back and being the perfect mom” nearly all at once…the superwoman ideology. She wants every woman to experience the true and undeniable joy that comes with taking pride in having a healthy body, while being comfortable in the skin they are in.

     “The body is a wonderful and amazing thing; you’ve gotten amazing little tiny people out of it,” she said.

     Apryl wants women to know their significance in life as moms and embrace the irreplaceable joys of motherhood. Stroller Strong Moms supports, inspires and motivates each other. She adds, “It’s okay to inspire and encourage fellow women. This is not a competition; it is really true friendships. I want to keep building that community. The workouts are wonderful, but you come back for the comradery and the empowerment. You’re competing with the person next to you to try to beat them in a race, but at the same time, you’re cheering them on, which is very hard to find in a group of women.”

     Apryl is confident that nearly anyone can succeed in her class. She strives to be as flexible with the members as possible and says that “everything can be modified.” Apryl does not want anyone to be “scared off” or intimidated by anything. She states, “It’s something for everybody, and we can take it to your level; it’s a health and wellness thing.”

     Each class consists of a one hour full-body workout outdoors; at present, Apryl’s Effingham fitness class is held at Baker’s Pond and her Statesboro class is held at Mill Creek Regional Park. There are four conditioning stations, which takes about 10-12 minutes each. This time frame works great for the kids, who are watching from their strollers; it is usually just enough time for them to be entertained but not enough to become bored and agitated. There is cardio conditioning, including walking and running paths, cross-hiit (high intensity interval training) and plyometrics. However, that can be modified based on individual preference and needs.

     A diverse group of ladies make up the classes, mainly moms with toddlers; moms with older children of various ages also attend. Moreover, there are even ladies who attend who are not moms at all; they merely appreciate the overall benefits. Apryl wants to encourage mothers to take a small amount of time out of the day for themselves without feeling guilty about it.

     “Taking that one hour out of the day for you makes the other 23 hours so much better for your child, because you’re happy, you’re in a good head space, you’re confident, you’ll have energy and will be a better mother for it.”

     There is also fun outside of the exercise arena. Apryl and the other ladies enjoy a “mom’s night out” once each month. Whether going bowling or catching a movie, they have a fun and relaxing change of scenery. There is even something for the kiddies; after all, they are also little dedicated members of the group. They have a play-date after class once each month. One of the play-dates that is “everybody’s favorite” involves a toddler workout.

     Apryl smiles and says, “My kids live to work out.”

     Apryl is proud that Stroller Strong Moms support a cause that is “near and dear to her heart”—CURE, an organization that completely focuses on finding a cure for childhood cancers. Apryl has donated to the worthy cause over the years. Each year, Stroller Strong Moms has a consignment sale consisting of designer children’s clothing, where “a portion of the proceeds goes to CURE.”

     “Obviously, we’re all mothers; you can never be too grateful,” Apryl mentions.

     Going forward, she wants to continue to make more women aware of Stroller Strong Moms and be a voice of empowerment for moms. She, too, is excited about the 10-week fitness and nutrition challenge that the organization is currently involved in, which brings participants “back to the basics” in wellness. This includes the consumption of the suggested daily water intake, enhancing exercise goals, and helping individuals challenge themselves to achieve various points of wellness.

     Apryl Lee, alongside Stroller Strong Moms, is certainly leading by example, truly showing that “taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids.” For additional information about the organization, visit www.strollerstrongmoms.com.

John Bennett – MD

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

Dr. John Bennet works hard to better himself and the healthcare industry. With years of experience under his belt, his career in the industry has certainly blossomed. In 2017, he was named chief medical officer (CMO) and chief medical information officer (CMIO) for Effingham Health System (EHS), a position that requires a high level of dedication and commitment to excellence. This position also requires leadership oversight for the Medical Staff Governing Body and the design of the healthcare delivery model across the health system.

     As CMO/CMIO for EHS, Dr. Bennett is a physician who is championing the selection and procurement of a replacement electronic health record system. “We are faced with workflow challenges managing multiple systems. As we grow, we need an infrastructure that will support our operational needs, and our delivery of safe and quality care to the patients we serve. Having one system to replace three will greatly improve efficiency and work satisfaction,” says Dr. Bennett.

     Dr. Bennett works closely with the chief executive officer, department directors, physicians, and hospital staff to ensure that the highest standards of quality and service are maintained. He oversees the implementation of quality improvement efforts designed to enhance clinical performance and maintain compliance with accreditation standards. He also evaluates developments in medical care and makes recommendations for new practices and procedures.

     For Dr. Bennett, being a doctor wasn’t his first career choice. After graduating from Georgia Tech, he spent several years as a civil and environmental engineer. A visit from a friend who had attended medical school sparked an interest in Dr. Bennett. “At that point in my career, I was working with biotechnology as an option for decontaminating industrial sites so I had developed a good knowledge of microbiology. Our conversations during her visit basically planted the seed of curiosity about medicine and the human equation,” says Dr. Bennett. “I wanted to learn, so I went to medical school. My wife always says grass would never grow under my feet since I am always moving forward taking on the challenge of learning new things.”

     Dr. Bennett obtained a Doctor of Medicine degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. After completing residency at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, he moved to Atlanta to practice medicine. He then built a successful practice in Cumming, Georgia, that focused on outpatient internal medicine. He also assisted in building an Urgent Care in Atlanta.

     In 2013, he was recruited by EHS to work as an internist in the Port Wentworth medical office and to assist in the development of ECB (Effingham-Chatham-Bryan) Occupational Medicine. In addition, he shared rotational weekends with other area physicians as a hospitalist at EHS. In 2014, EHS lost one full-time hospitalist and he stepped up to fill that position. The following year, Dr. Bennett moved away from traditional primary care to become a full-time hospitalist for St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah. During his off weeks, he continued to work for EHS as the director of Occupational Medicine. He also filled in as a hospitalist as needed.

     No matter the role Dr. Bennett takes on at EHS, there is one thing that doesn’t change and that’s his commitment to his work and those he serves. “I understand the challenges happening in healthcare and challenges faced by small hospitals,” says Dr. Bennett. “Working at EHS gives me the opportunity to be a part of that in the most rewarding way, which centers around the people I work with and the patients I care for.”


Getting school age children the medical care they need when they aren’t feeling well can be a real challenge for parents. A new telemedicine program from Effingham Health System is providing some area students the opportunity to “visit” the doctor while they are in school.

     Effingham Health TELEMED has transformed healthcare for children in our community. It makes healthcare more convenient and accessible for parents, avoids delays in treatment and enhances learning by decreasing absenteeism.

     Effingham County’s non-profit healthcare system is working with the Effingham County Board of Education on this new program. According to Joseph Tallent, Community and Operations Coordinator for Effingham Health System, it is the first such program in the greater Savannah region.

     Telemedicine in schools has met with great success in the past few years. Effingham Health TELEMED has partnered with Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, which has launched telemedicine programs in over 100 schools in Georgia. “Being a part of their pacesetting program is a real honor for Effingham Health System,’” explains Mr. Tallent.


     If a sick student appears that they may need to see a doctor, the school nurse reaches out to the parent. The student (or a teacher who is not feeling well) is triaged to determine if they meet the criteria for a telemedicine appointment. If yes, and there is signed consent on file, the nurse contacts Effingham Health System to schedule a same day appointment via the schools telemedicine technology. If it is late in the afternoon, appointments are made for early the next morning.

      Assessments and diagnoses are performed by a physician or advance practitioner from Effingham Health System. Their care team advises on medical treatments and calls in any prescriptions for the parent to pick up at their convenience. The school nurse follows up with parents after the visit.

     Today’s telemedicine has evolved to include cutting-edge medical treatment and innovative technology. A blue tooth stethoscope, HD digital cameras, monitors and a digital scope, provide a high definition picture of the patient for the physician, who communicates via live cameras and a computer, while a secure connection assures patient privacy.

     Effingham Health TELEMED is also open to faculty and staff members. Guyton and Springfield Elementary schools were chosen as the pilot schools for this new program. The plan is to expand to other schools in the fall.

     The goal of our telemedicine program is to increase attendance and GPA for students, increase access to providers, decrease after hours emergency room visits and hospitalizations all while decreasing the time away from work for parents.

     The school nurses, Joe Tallent and Shannon Clark, Effingham Health System Practice Manager, have received training through Georgia Partnership for Telehealth and are Certified Telehealth Clinical Presenters.

     “Joe and I are available to not only assist with the scheduling, if needed, but we also go to the schools to assist the nurses with the presenting of the patient to the Providers if the nurses are busy with their other daily duties and responsibilities,” states Clark.

      Effingham Health System has had 27 telemedicine visits since the program went live in October 2017.

Mary Thomas: Director of Nursing, EHS Care Center

Mary Thomas
Director of Nursing, EHS Care Center

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

Mary Thomas considers herself to be hands-on when it comes to her daily duties. As the director of nursing for Effingham Health System’s (EHS) Care Center, she is dedicated to helping patients achieve a better quality of life. “When a resident is admitted to our facility with a chronic and or acute illness, such as a stroke, fracture or change in mental status, we meet with the resident and family members to decide on goals to improve the condition and outcome,” says Thomas. “Within a few weeks of therapy or medication management, to see the recovery and hear the family members share their experience, is very rewarding.”

     The EHS Care Center is a 105-bed nursing home and is more than just a place to come for treatment. The Care Center is designed to provide residents with a multitude of services and all-around comfort. “We provide each resident with the highest quality of care, ensuring patient safety is our top priority while maintaining a quality of life that optimizes each resident’s level of functioning,” says Thomas.

     The Care Center employees nearly 100 people including licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants. All of the certified nursing assistants are also certified nursing restorative assistants (CRNA), who have completed a 40-hour course on restorative nursing. CRNAs help patients with active and passive range of motion, therapeutic exercises, gait training, infusion therapy and respiratory therapy to name a few. A medical team is also actively involved in resident care.

     Along with services such as physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and Hospice care, the Care Center provides residents with nutritious meals and activities aimed at improving quality of life. Through a grant, the EHS Care Center received iPods, computers, earphones and iTunes gift cards for residents to enjoy. “For those residents that are depressed or experiencing an unusual day, we download the music they like onto the iPod and let them listen to it,” says Thomas. “The music calms the residents down and some of them even sing along with the songs.” Residents enjoy Bingo one to two times a week, occasional trips to the bowling alley or Carey Hillard’s, as well as monthly birthday parties. There’s also a beauty shop on site and free haircuts and styles are provided by the Pink Ladies Auxiliary.

     Thomas says the goals of the Care Center are to provide residents with an experience that makes them feel at home. The staff does that by focusing on long-term quality care and mixing a level of excellence with compassion. “Compassion motivates people to go above and beyond their job. Our staff cares for our residents as if they are their family members,” says Thomas. “We have a CRNA who buys clothes for the residents who do not have clothes. We have a CRNA who brings an iron to work and irons the residents’ clothes.”

     Another way you can tell the Care Center staff is committed to excellence is the number of years they have been there. Around 25 percent of the staff have been employed at EHS for 10 years or longer. “Longevity speaks volume in healthcare because of all the changes and demands on the nursing staff,” says Thomas. “We are proud to highlight that our low employee turnover represents that EHS is an excellent place to work and demonstrates our commitment to employee retention, professional growth and patient care.”

Jane Hughes : Fighting Colon Cancer with the help of the Cancer Center at Effingham Health System

Jane Hughes

Fighting Colon Cancer with the help of the Cancer Center at Effingham Health System

story by Julie Hales     photos by Tonya Perry

If you are from Effingham County, or have lived here for any period of time, the name, Jane Hughes, is someone you know…or, at the very least, heard of.

     Jane Hughes is somewhat of an icon in Effingham County.  She has been in the mortgage business for over 35 years.  She has owned her own company for 28 years, International Mortgage, which is the oldest mortgage company in our county.

     To have survived that industry over the past 28 years, you must be a fighter. And, Jane Hughes is just that…a fighter.  She has scrapped with the best of them.  The years that real estate took a dive and our economy tanked were tough on the mortgage industry. Many companies folded under these tough times. But not Jane, she is a survivor.

     Jane’s biggest fight came in June of 2017, the fight for her life. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer.

     Talk about life altering.

     It all began when Jane just didn’t feel well.  She hadn’t felt well for a while and knew there was an issue. She didn’t know what, but she knew there was definitely something wrong.

     Jane made an appointment at the Guyton location of Effingham Family Medicine.  She saw Nurse Practitioner, Kristie Moore.  Moore knew there was a problem and immediately scheduled a CT Scan at Effingham Health System. The results were not good.

     A colonoscopy was quickly scheduled.  Dr. Wynn performed the procedure at Effingham Health System. Dr. Wynn came back with the bad news.

      The surgery was performed within one week of diagnosis.

     According to Jane, stage 4 Colon cancer is not curable, but it is treatable. Dr. Alison Spellman of Summit Cancer Care was brought in as Jane’s Oncologist.  Dr. Spellman treats patients at the Cancer Care Center at Effingham Health System.

     Dr. Spellman put the ‘plan of action’ into motion. Chemotherapy was the treatment.  Jane began her chemo treatments about four weeks after the surgery. She had a port inserted at EHS about two weeks after surgery, then two weeks later, she began her treatments.

     Jane’s treatment plan calls for 12 treatments, both oral and IV. Each IV treatment is three weeks apart, and oral is two weeks on and one week off. The IV treatments take about four hours each.

     Each treatment she receives is done at the Cancer Care Center at Effingham Health System. She will receive a CT Scan at the end of her 12 treatments to see how well the chemotherapy has worked for her.  Typically, cancer patients have CT’s throughout the treatment process. Jane’s body produces an enzyme which is a cancer marker, called a CEA, which enables the doctors to tell if the treatment is working. The determination is done by special blood work.  And, as of now, the chemotherapy is working.  Praise the Lord. (At press time, Jane had two treatments left, will be done by end of March)

     “Being able to have my treatments done at home, in Effingham County has been a God send. It has been such a great relief to know I do not have to travel.  The Cancer Care Center here at EHS has been a complete blessing,” says Jane.

     She adds, “If I had to rate Summit Cancer Care and Effingham Health System on a scale of 1-10, I would give them both a 10+.”

     Jane is quick to tell you about her experience in the Cancer Care Center. She is particularly fond of her nurse that gives her treatment, Shirley Rahn. She says, “Shirley is number one.  The quality of care I receive is unbelievable, and the sincerity of everyone there is amazing.”

     Up until this happened, Jane had never had a colonoscopy. She readily admits that she did not take proper care of herself, and this news came as a huge shock. “I learned such a hard lesson. I want to do my part to get the word out. I told Dr. Wynn that I will now stand in front of a group of Realtors at a sales meeting and tell them of the importance of having a colonoscopy. I am definitely now an advocate for people to have proper testing.”

     Jane feels very blessed to have been given the opportunity to receive treatments and begin her healing process by the proper professionals at Effingham Health System.

     Despite the illness, and the treatments, Jane has maintained to continue to work.  Her work load may not be as heavy, and her hours may not be as many, but working is also therapy for her.  “I encourage patients to work as much as possible. It keeps the mind busy and keeps you from worrying about whether the treatments are working,” she says.

     Yes, Jane Hughes is a fighter. But, she is quick to let you know she has not walked this journey alone. Her husband of 30 years, David, has been her biggest supporter. And, her children, son Tripp and Wesley Ballard, have been a great support system as well.  Jane’s only daughter, Hope Ballard, was lost in an automobile accident at the age of 17.

     This lady is blessed in so many ways. Her friends and church family at Wingard Memorial Lutheran and Laurel Hill Lutheran, have also been incredible.  Friends, Sue Zittrouer and Evelyn Kessler, both told her in the beginning that they were on a mission to see her from beginning to end of this journey…and they have. Sue has designated Fridays to Jane…she takes her to her treatments each time and takes care of other things for Jane on the off-chemo weeks.

     This experience has been life-changing. But, Jane is receiving the proper treatments and taking care of herself. And, remember, this lady is a fighter…and a survivor. Thanks to the Cancer Care Center at Effingham Health System, Jane Hughes will be around for a long time!

Effingham Cancer Care Practice

Professionally Staffed by Summit Cancer Care Physicians

We know a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Our team is here to help you with care, compassion, and courage-when you need it most.

     The Cancer Care Center provides medical oncology services and chemotherapy. Extensively trained, medical oncologists will oversee care, including advanced treatment options.

     For residents of Effingham and surrounding communities who are dealing with cancer, care close to home makes it easier for patients—and their families—to focus on healing. Our patients receive personalized care, save hours of time in transit, and benefit from a professional support system within our own community.

     The Cancer Care Center is licensed to administer chemotherapy. We have created a comfortable place with a caring, professional team that is focused on you. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, we welcome you to call us to arrange a tour.

Michael Daly – NP-C

Michael Daly – NP-C
Nurse Practitioner – Board Certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew directly impacted Coastal Georgia. Inland counties such as Effingham County felt the effects of the powerful hurricane. Michael Daly remembers the storm very well. The board certified nurse practitioner had just started his new role at Effingham Health System (EHS), working in the hospital. He was part of the team that worked around the clock during the storm. “I had to learn things pretty quickly,” says Daly. “All of the patients that would normally go to Savannah were coming to us and we had evacuees from South Carolina here. We treated a lot of patients during the storm.” That baptism by fire was welcomed by Daly because commitment to patient care is his top priority.

     The Greenville, South Carolina, native always knew he wanted to help people and nursing was a way he could do that. He received his nursing degree from Georgia South University (GSU) in Statesboro, Georgia. After school, he worked as a mental health nurse and then started working in the Effingham Hospital emergency department where he spent five years.

     While working there, he went back to GSU to become a nurse practitioner. In fact, he was the first nurse practitioner hired to work in the EHS Hospitalist program, which was expanded to include advanced practitioners. This best-practice model is being implemented across the nation due to physician shortages. EHS’s redesign of its Hospitalist program, spearheaded by Dr. John Bennett, chief medical officer at EHS, is an innovative and cutting-edge approach to providing quality care.

     Daly, who works alongside Dr. John Bennett, says that EHS is embracing a culture of compassion and excellence and doing so by maximizing the patient experience. One of the ways patients benefit is by seeing the same doctors. “I believe when you come to our hospital, you get more attention than you would in a bigger hospital,” says Daly. “Everyone we see is sick and needs our services. We want to give them all of the attention they deserve. We are always in the building, always making rounds and we make ourselves easily accessible to our patients.”

     When a patient comes to Effingham Hospital, they are first seen in the emergency department and if necessary, will be admitted to the hospital where their care will continue. Daly says he treats patients with a variety of illnesses to include, pneumonia, respiratory issues, cardiac issues, and infections. Daly also treats patients who are in EHS’s Care Center, a 105-bed nursing home. “If one of those patients has a problem, we are able to help them. We get to know our Care Center patients very well and we form a personal relationship with them and their families,” says Daly.

     “What is most rewarding about my job is I’m doing something that I have a passion for. I get to help people. I get to do it in a small community and I’m truly able to give my patients the best possible care,” says Daly. “We really do hover over our patients, but that’s not a bad thing.”

Effingham Health System’s State-Of-The-Art Surgery Center

Effingham Health System’s
State-Of-The-Art Surgery Center

Top surgeons from around the region are attracted to Effingham Hospital’s state-of-the-art surgery facility.  EHS offers the latest in equipment and resources including two fully integrated operating room suites with video/PACS capabilities.

     The facilities at EHS also include one integrated GI suite for all endoscopic gastrointestinal procedures. They offer outpatient (same day) surgeries, as well as inpatient and observation procedures.

     Many local and Savannah-based physicians are credentialed to operate on patients at Effingham Hospital.

     Surgical procedures offered at Effingham Hospital include:

     General Surgery: All general surgical procedures to include cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal), appendectomy, hernia repair, any obstructions/bleeding of the GI tract, abscess/cyst removal/treatment, and any other general condition that may affect the human body.

     Endoscopic Gastrointestinal: All endoscopic procedures of the entire GI tract, both upper and lower for bleeding, polyp removal, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), GERD, routine screening, and any other condition that may warrant investigation by a gastroenterologist.

     Opthalmic: Cataract repair and replacement surgery, with state-of-the-art instrumentation and equipment, is attracting some of Savannah’s top Opthamologists to Effingham Hospital.

     Orthopaedic: All joint replacement procedures: To include shoulder, hip, knee and all finger/toe joint replacement for conditions like osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, fractures, degenerative arthritis and any other conditions requiring replacement.

     All sports medicine procedures: To include arthroscopy (shoulder, knee, elbow, ankle), ACL reconstruction, tendon and cartilage reconstruction, and any/all fracture repair from any sports-related injuries or general orthopaedic injuries.

     All general orthopaedic conditions: To include spinal injury/disease (herniated discs, deformity, stenosis, etc.) fractures, dislocations, joint injuries, pain management and trauma.

     Pediatric orthopaedics: All conditions involving pediatrics to include congenital abnormalities, bone growth deformities, pediatric injuries, pediatric spinal surgery and soft tissue deformities and injuries.

     Podiatry: Specialized surgery for the foot and ankle to include bunionectomy, joint replacement, tendon repair, and any soft tissue repair/reconstruction.

     Neurological: Specializing in spinal disease and repair to include surgery of the cervical (neck) spine and thoracic/lumbar spine with fusion capabilities and management. We also provide pain management of the spine.

     Urological/Gynecological: All problems associated with the female urinary and reproductive system to include partial and complete hysterectomy, ablation of cancers and fibromas, urinary incontinence or difficulties, and any other anomalies involving this body system. Both laparoscopic and open procedures are done as needed.

Ashley Dasher, AGACNP-BC

Ashley Dasher, AGACNP-BC
Nurse Practitioner – Board Certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

Ashley Dasher is an Effingham County native. She was born and raised in the small community and her roots are planted deeply. She has also planted roots at Effingham Health System (EHS) and her career with the hospital has flourished since she started in 2014 as a medical surgery nurse. Dasher says she didn’t grow up wanting to be a nurse and in college was pursuing a degree in biology. An advisor suggested she try nursing. Dasher says that it was the best decision she’s made because it gives her the opportunity to challenge herself every day.

     While working at EHS as a nurse, Dasher decided to challenge herself even more by obtaining a master’s degree in hospital medicine. “The hospital was very supportive of me pursuing my education and I was able to work here while attending school,” says Dasher.

     She calls what happened next a blessing. When she started at EHS there were no nurse practitioners working for hospitalist services. As the hospital continued to grow, that changed. Dasher was approached by Dr. Claude Sanks about becoming his nurse practitioner upon graduation. Two months after graduating, she began her new role as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner.

     Dasher credits much of her success at EHS to Dr. Sanks. “First and foremost, he had faith in me and asked me to work with him as a new nurse practitioner,” says Dasher. “I could not be more grateful to him for that.” In the seven months they have worked together, Dasher says she has learned so much. Dr. Sanks has helped mold her practice style, manage her time, and improve her documentation. “He empowers me by promoting my independence while also letting me know he is always available for any questions I have,” says Dasher.

     Dasher currently works alongside Dr. Sanks in hospitalist services for the medical surgical floor. She admits patients from the emergency department to the hospital, manages patients as inpatients and in observation, arranges transfers when necessary and plans discharges. She also consults with physicians and other advanced practitioners from multiple specialties and takes call for the hospital patients at night. “I feel that my nursing experience at EHS helps me be a liaison between the physicians and nurses, and makes me approachable to the staff as many of us have already built friendships in the past,” says Dasher.

     Along with the priceless experience she is getting at EHS, Dasher believes her ties with the community serves her patients well. “I feel that sometimes patients feel a little more comfortable just having a familiar face present when they are sick. I love when I can provide that for them,” says Dasher.

     Dasher’s roots will keep her at EHS. Her grandmother was a patient at EHS’s Care Center, an on-site nursing home, and her aunt was a nurse at EHS for many years. Dasher says she loves Effingham County and wants to see it grow. “EHS feels like home to me. As a mother of young children, l cannot put a price on the benefit of working close to home, only 10 minutes from my children’s preschool,” says Dasher. “As the hospital continues to grow and prosper, I want to be a part of it. I have learned so much in my short time working as a nurse practitioner, and I look forward to what the future holds for me here.”

Fran Baker-Witt : Leader and Visionary for Effingham Health System

story by Julie Hales     photos by Tonya Perry

Some people possess leadership skills because they learned how to become a leader.  Some possess these skills because of the life paths they have chosen and the walks they have taken along those paths. And, for others, it is just a natural trait, a part of who they are, from beginning to end.

     Fran Baker-Witt is one of those people, she was born to be a leader. It is who she is, it just comes natural to her. She doesn’t take a back seat. She takes the ‘bull by the horns’ and gets the job done. She was simply born to lead, and to lead with grace, poise and dignity.

     For the past year, Fran Baker-Witt has served as the CEO of Effingham Health System. She originally came to EHS as the new Transformation Officer, and soon was appointed as interim CEO, before being chosen to fill that position on a permanent basis.

     Baker-Witt came to Effingham Health System from Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. She says, “I worked at Grady for 17 years in various leadership positions, including Patient Safety and Accreditation Officer and, most recently, as Executive Director of Women’s and Infants Services. Those varied roles, in the context of a public safety net academic institution, with unique challenges specific to clinical acuity and social issues, working with two schools of medicine, prepared me well for my role as CEO. Grady is a cutting-edge institution and I brought that spirit of innovation and energy with me to Effingham Health System. Nothing is stopping us as we recruit specialized practitioners, partners, and technology to transform this healthcare system to meet the population health needs of our patients and community.”

     And, she has certainly brought spirit and innovation to EHS. And, it has been contagious within the walls of this hospital. Adapting a motto early in her new role, Baker-Witt explains, “‘Be the change. See the change. Lead the change,’ has served our team well this past year and will continue to guide us into the future as we transform this health system. It has created momentum with outcomes like our program to put Telemedicine in the local schools. Our employee engagement has gone from 69% to 91%. Happy employees translate to a good patient experience!”

     Patient experience is a top priority at EHS. And that experience starts with the staff, from the receptionist when you walk in the door, to the triage nurse, to the ER physicians, to the Hospitalist, to the Therapists…the list goes on and on. If Baker-Witt could instill one characteristic into each staff member at EHS, it would be passion. “Passion is important. Change is not easy, and we are transforming our organizational culture. We need to support each other as we grow, understanding that we are all human and that change takes perseverance. Our industry is changing so fast, and we need to help each other as we adapt and excel in this new environment. Passion for our work ultimately translates to a better experience for our patients,” she states.

     Baker-Witt’s role as Transformation Officer to CEO has been a smooth transition, partly because the two roles are very similar. She explains, “The progression between the two roles was a solid fit, given that Transformation of our health system is our immediate objective. The focus on change and transformation remains.  The biggest difference is the scope of responsibility has increased dramatically.”

      There have been many changes at Effingham Health System over the last year. When asked of the changes made and accomplishments in her first year in her role as CEO, Baker-Witt tells us, “I asked that question of our employees recently and they said, ‘No more Silos,’ ‘Teamwork,’ ‘Better Communication,’ ‘Clear Direction, and ‘Trust. We have experienced a major transformation of the culture. Expectations changed as we hardwired behavior that exemplifies evidenced-based best practices. The staff rose to the challenge of regulatory issues. Everybody understands the vision and mission, and there are no more silos. Results followed with increased patient engagement. We set high goals and we are reaching them. All of those internal operational changes have improved the patient experience and patient outcomes. We’re adding important services based on the needs we hear from our community.”

     “I also think the change in perception we have experienced is really important. How people perceive Effingham Health System, our branding. The community has known we are an economic engine. But today, we are building trust and confidence for the level of care we provide close to home. They are seeing and experiencing the innovation we are bringing to this community,” she adds.

     Baker-Witt has been a master at keeping her pulse on everything happening on the entire campus of EHS. This is definitely one of her strengths. “Thankfully I can draw on my experience in varied healthcare leadership roles throughout my career. I also find that the patience and multi-tasking I learned as a mother help me to be a better leader, while my spirituality keeps me focused,” she shares.

     Yes, spirituality plays a predominant role her life. When facing adversity in her new role, she relies on this part of her being.  Her faith translates to sound advice for her staff. “Facing adversity is never easy. Embrace the situation. Try to understand the purpose. Always question ‘why’? To overcome adversity, we need self-reflection; to know our strengths and weaknesses. When things happen, they have meaning and purpose. Don’t just see them as bad or be indifferent. Try to find the message. Be willing to stretch yourself and to critique yourself. Growth is hard. But the outcome is worth it.”

     There is no doubt that Fran Baker-Witt has used her own advice.

     Charities are dear to the heart of Baker-Witt. She has been involved in many charities since coming to Effingham, like United Way, March of Dimes and others. This year, she has been chosen to Co-Chair the Coastal Empire’s ‘March For Babies,’ with Tina Tyus-Shaw of WSAV in Savannah. When asked about this opportunity, Baker-Witt replied, “Now you’ve hit on one of my passions! I am honored to co-chair the March for Babies with Tina Tyus-Shaw this year. It is a great chance for Effingham to have a presence in a Greater Savannah event. As a nurse, I want to help reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in Georgia. Our state currently rates a “D” on March of Dimes’ Report Card. That includes the fact that Georgia has the 43rdhighest infant mortality, and 47th highest maternal mortality, in the nation. I particularly want to encourage prenatal care for African-American women, who have a 4X increased risk of premature birth than any other ethnicity. I experienced a miscarriage myself, even with good prenatal care, so this is near and dear to me personally. I understand on a personal level just how important March of Dimes’ mission—to care for mothers and babies—is to our community.”

      Baker-Witt’s professional journey began as a RN. She has always liked helping people. She received her BSN from Loyola University Chicago and then began nursing at Mercy Hospital, where she specialized in women’s services and neonatal care.

     For Baker-Witt, it wasn’t enough for her to take care of patients at the bedside.  She wanted to have more of an impact in the healthcare process. So, after two short years of nursing, she decided to go back to school and earn her Master of Business Administration degree.

     “While I was pursuing my MBA, I accepted my first nursing leadership healthcare management position as a director of nursing for a long-term care facility.  So, from 1988 to now, I have been in healthcare leadership roles,” she states.

     Education is a key component.  And, she continues to reach for the stars.  Last year, when accepting this position, she was in the process of obtaining her Doctor of Nursing Practice. She proudly states, “I expect to advance to Doctoral Candidate in June of this year. Given the demands of my CEO role, I’m pleased that I’ve been able to continue to achieve academic excellence. I attribute that to my faith. Prayer and time management (she says with a smile) helps put everything into perspective and gives me strength when I need it most.”

    There have been some major changes and accomplishments made under the leadership of Fran Baker-Witt this past year. A new Cancer Care Center was opened in Spring of 2017, providing cancer treatment close to home. This fall, Effingham Health System launched a highly successful Telemedicine pilot program in local schools and the healthcare system added the very first, much needed, pediatrician to the staff.

     They have also expanded the hospitalist program, physicians who specialize in care for people in the hospital and have expanded that model to include advanced practitioners. This allows EHS to deliver optimal care and helps assure the best possible health outcome for every patient.

      “One of the priorities I am very proud of from this past year is that we continue to improve the level of care we provide through our providers, including physicians and advanced practitioners (nurse practitioners and physician assistants). Our providers have tremendous expertise, experience and commitment. They are the connection between our health system and the people we serve,” states Baker-Witt. Effingham Health’s provider practices have excelled, receiving a 96.7% patient satisfaction rating.

     And what CEO, with the vision of Baker-Witt, would not be thinking about the future? The answer would be none. She is always thinking of the future and what changes we will see in the upcoming year. She tells us, “Continued growth, expansion of specialty programs and more outreach programs that move healthcare to patients in our community are on the agenda.”

     If Fran Baker-Witt says it, then you should expect it.  She is the leader and visionary of our community hospital. Her vision will continue to help Effingham residents have quality healthcare here in our community, without having to drive to Savannah and surrounding areas. With tireless dedication like hers, the future of Effingham Health System is very bright.