2014 is the 50th anniversary of having a community hospital in our region. It’s also the 25th anniversary of the hospital being part of the Riverside Health System.  Providing care for half a century is a noteworthy achievement. The ability of Riverside Tappahannock Hospital to meet the growing needs of the people in the region well into the future, however, is even more significant today than when the hospital was founded in 1964.  

The 1960s: As a pivotal point in the decade, 1964 is the year when the Beatles re-defined popular music and car enthusiasts cheered the new Ford Mustang.  In sports, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, and Richard Petty gained the NASCAR Grand National title.
Gas cost 30 cents a gallon, bread was 25 cents a loaf and a new car averaged less than $3,000. In national health care news the U.S. Surgeon General first linked smoking and lung cancer.
In and around Tappahannock there was health care news of a more local nature. Supported by a community-wide effort that raised $100,000 (more than $750,000 in 2014 dollars) and a partnership with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Tidewater Memorial Hospital opened. The hospital contained 50 beds and was described in a newspaper article as a “small, neat facility sitting on a hill, and the only hospital for 45 miles.”

The 1970s: The world of medicine saw the first vaccines for pneumonia and rubella and the first large scale introduction of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). Cancer research was centralized in the National Institutes of Health and the percentage of women in medical school went from 9 percent as the decade began to over 25 percent when it ended.
It was a time when all hospitals had growing concerns about costs, reimbursements and an increasingly difficult regulatory environment, and smaller, rural hospitals had their own unique challenges. As technology became a more significant part of health care, smaller hospitals experienced difficulties in accessing costly equipment. The hospital on the hill, Tidewater Memorial, was no exception.

The 1980s: Smallpox was eradicated, the first artificial heart was implanted and hepatitis vaccines were developed. The number of individual, free-standing hospitals decreased as larger health care systems increased. And the struggles of rural hospitals continued.
Despite ongoing investments in technology and facility expansion, Tidewater Memorial Hospital was, in the words of a contemporary newspaper, “sick” without much hope for recovery.
After a period of negotiation, Riverside Health System acquired Tidewater Memorial in 1989 renaming it Riverside Tappahannock Hospital (RTH). During this time Riverside invested eight million dollars in the facility.

The 1990s: The Human Genome project began, Congress required packaged foods to include nutrition labels and an effective vaccine for Lyme disease was developed. Radiosurgery (sometimes called “knifeless” surgery) gained wider use.
Closer to home, Riverside continued investing in technology at RTH – including the purchase of a new CT scanner and mobile MRI equipment – as well as in renovations of the hospital and its grounds. The 1990s also saw an expanded Emergency Department, a new cardiac program, an Infusion Center located within the hospital and new partnerships including the Virginia Cancer Institute.

The 2000s: The first decade of the 21st century witnessed an explosion of health information technology in everything from patient education to advancements in research and improved medical processes and procedures. Cancer therapies become more targeted, less-invasive procedures reduced recovery times and the human genome was mapped years sooner than expected.
At RTH the ongoing growth included the initial development of telemedicine services that linked specialists from Riverside Regional Medical Center and other major facilities with physicians and patients at RTH. As a leader in health as well as residential services for older adults, Riverside opened Magnolia Manor at the Orchard, an assisted living community and Dogwood Manor, a skilled nursing facility.
The mobile MRI was replaced with a permanent unit, the Intensive Care Unit was expanded and outpatient services and facilities were introduced in the areas of physical therapy and urgent care, while physician practices expanded throughout the Northern Neck under the Riverside Medical Group umbrella.

The 2010s and Beyond: The second decade of the 21st century, still less than half over, sets the pace for new technologies that improve patient outcomes and convenience. As part of this advancement RTH continues expanding its telemedicine programs to include Telestroke as well as dermatology, wound care, pediatric emergencies, sleep studies, pulmonary, and other specialties.
Along with new programs and technologies, the past few years have also seen the emergence of the Riverside Care Difference, a commitment on the part of Riverside staff to “… care for others as we would care for those we love.”
Predicting the future is challenging, but it’s reasonable to project the remainder of the 2010s as a time when increasing financial pressures and more hospital-community partnerships, including the current capital campaign to convert shared patient rooms to all-private rooms, will be part of re-shaping the hospital. It will also be a time when RTH takes its place within a wider health care transformation from a focus on treating sickness to one of enhancing health.

With 2014 marking both a 50th and 25th anniversary for RTH, it’s a good time to look back on the past while looking forward to the future.

Published: April 30, 2014