Partners in Learning Visit to Coosa Valley Medical Center

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By Nathan Farrar, CRA

January 2010 — I was given the opportunity through the AHRA Partners in Learning (PIL) program to visit Coosa Valley Medical Center in Sylacauga, AL.  Coosa Valley Medical Center is a well run, 163 bed facility with an additional 50 bed nursing home and a 35 bed transitional care unit.

I had not visited Alabama much. I passed through Birmingham a few times in the past and went by Mobile, AL on the way to New Orleans once.  Sylacauga is near Talladega, home of the famous auto racing speedway.  Sylacauga is a small town, similar to my own.

Upon my arrival to the radiology department, I was immediately impressed with the large waiting room that serves both radiology and lab patients.  It was about 3 times the size of my department’s waiting room (we are kind of cramped).  There was plenty of space for patients and family members to sit in comfort without being right next to someone else whom you did not know.  I think that was nice and it relaxed me.  They also provided coffee in the waiting room, manned by a volunteer.  Another added touch of customer service.

I then spent a few hours with Andy Gill, director of imaging services.  Andy was very pleasant and helpful.  We talked for a few hours sharing ideas, challenges, and what to look out for during Joint Commission visits.  

Andy then allowed me to visit each area of the facility.  The receptionists were courteous and helpful to me and to each patient that arrived for service.  The receptionists registered all radiology and lab patients and handled tasks such as scanning documents and burning CDs of images.  They were busy, well organized, and seemed to enjoy their work.  They also had a volunteer in the waiting room who greeted each patient as they arrived.

Throughout my visit I was impressed with how well everyone seemed to work together.  Also, hand washing and cleaning equipment after each use was second nature to everyone I observed and was well ingrained into the department’s (and I am sure the hospital’s) culture.  Way to go!  To me, cleanliness in a hospital is as fundamental as an airline pilot making sure there is fuel in the plane before takeoff.  You won’t get too far without it.

I must say I was envious of the new equipment.  Coosa Valley has a new 64 slice CT scanner, a new dual head NM camera, and a DR x-ray unit.  Of course, they just renovated the department a few years ago so good timing on buying equipment.  My equipment for the most part has a little age on it.  I am becoming familiar with the term “end of service life.”

I did spend a good amount of time observing CT which has a nice holding area across the hallway.  Whoever designed the department certainly did it right.  Each exam area had the needed support rooms nearby.  I particularly liked the way the cardiology and ultrasound area was laid out.   The stress room, modality waiting room, nuclear medicine room, workroom, and echo ultrasound room were all beside each other.  There was little wasted motion on the part of staff or patients.

I really enjoyed the visit.  The hospitality of everyone was appreciated.  My visit confirmed a lot of things that we do right at my hospital and it gave me some ideas of changes that we can make to improve our processes.   I would like to thank AHRA and GE for sponsoring the PIL program, and Coosa Valley Medical Center and Andy Gill for making this opportunity possible. 

Nathan Farrar, MHA, CRA is director of radiology/cardiology at Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca, SC.  He can be reached at

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