Pusey aims for unique level of caring service

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

With a new, 6-bed wing under construction, 2022 figures to be a year of continued improvements for Fairfax Community Hospital. Dr. Elizabeth Pusey, owner of the hospital, said the new wing will be emblematic of the direction in which the small-town facility is headed.

Dr. Pusey, a radiologist with a practice in California, acquired the Fairfax hospital in early 2020. She has since become owner of two other small Oklahoma hospitals, in Anadarko and Stroud. The critical access hospitals are managed by Avem Health Partners, formerly known as First Physicians Capital Group.

Pusey told the Journal-Capital in a recent interview that she became aware of health needs in Oklahoma through health management company board members in California — people she knew through volunteer work. She said that she visited Oklahoma, and in the process became aware of Fairfax at a time when the hospital there had experienced financial problems and associated legal complications -- it had gone into bankruptcy.

Pusey explained that her concern about timely access to good care goes back at least in part to her mother’s experience as a child in Illinois. Her mother suffered hearing damage as a result of untreated illness.

”The people in Fairfax, they’ve been wonderful,” Pusey said of her experience with residents of the town of about 1,200 people. Fairfax is distant from population and medical care hubs, Pusey said, commenting that the hospital will need an active swing-bed program to make it economically viable over time. Swing-bed care allows patients to continue receiving hospital services even when acute care is no longer needed.

Prospective patients for the Fairfax Community Hospital need to be able to see that there is something valuable to them at this small, rural hospital. Warmth of care, individual attention and a unique healthcare environment are important, Pusey said.

Among the technological advantages being built into the new 6-bed wing is what Pusey referred to as a "track system," which is also known as a ceiling lift system. This technology will allow hospital staff members to transport patients, but cut down on over-exertion by employees and possible workplace injuries.

”It’s really for patients who are not able to walk that distance on their own two feet,” Pusey said. The system, which allows staff members to lift and move patients, can be particularly helpful in caring for larger patients with mobility problems.

Pusey reflected on having large relatives who “had a really rough time when they were in hospitals.”

”I really wanted to see if we could do something,” she said.

With the help of a "track system" available, some patients will be able to recover more quickly and ambulate better, Pusey said. This is just one example of new things that will be done in the Fairfax hospital, she said.

Some new things are already happening in the existing (older) hospital in Fairfax, Pusey said. Better oxygen supply and “smart beds” with special mattresses were among examples she cited. The temperature and firmness of the mattresses on "smart beds" can be adjusted, she said. The beds are also safer for staff members to handle without being injured.

”This is a place where you can feel comfortable going," Pusey said of the Fairfax Community Hospital. She said that she hopes the new wing will be open by spring 2022.

”When you’re building, you can do what you want,” Pusey said, emphasizing that she wants improvements in the Fairfax facility to help attract both new patients and new staff members.

Overnight accommodations have been arranged for Fairfax hospital staff members to use if they need them following the completion of shifts, Pusey said. The extended period of freezing weather in February 2021 demonstrated how important that amenity for staff members could be, she said.

”That definitely brought it home” Pusey said of February freezing spell. ”Luckily we had that (the overnight accommodation offering) before the freeze.”

”You can’t just treat Fairfax as you would Tulsa or Oklahoma City,” Pusey said. ”You have to think about everything they’re going to need.”

Jerry and Emma Butterbaugh, who moved back to the Fairfax area about 14 years ago, said Dr. Pusey's investment in rural Oklahoma healthcare has been very welcome.

Emma Butterbaugh said one of the things that she and her husband were pleased with when they moved back to Osage County was the local medical community.

"And the hospital (in Fairfax) was a major part of that," she said.

"There was a point where we began to see all of this deteriorate," Emma Butterbaugh recalled. "We didn't have the service. We didn't have the staffing."

Dr. Pusey's intervention has been important because the population in the Fairfax area is very dependent on the hospital, she said.