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Health and Meadows robotics programs, the staff at Meadows has stepped in to support Dr. Whipple’s work. The Meadows team includes two familiar faces: Janet LaCombs Tabor, Robotics Coordinator at Meadows, and Jennifer Rushing Wolfe, Director of Surgical Services. “Janet and I went to school together in Toombs County from kindergarten on,” Dr. Whipple said. Jennifer was also a schoolmate. “When I was on the football team, she was a cheerleader. Her husband was the quarterback,” he reminisced.
Even the anesthesiologists who work on the Meadows team are familiar to Dr. Whipple from his previous days in Vidalia. Dr. Whipple had high praise for the Meadows team. “In the operating room, there are a lot of moving parts and as surgeon I am the captain of the ship and have to have everyone working in same direction. I must bring consistency so the team will know what to anticipate, so everything is smooth.”
He gave as an example a Meadows scrub tech, Sophie Frink, whose job is to keep up with and dispense the instruments the surgeon requires to do his job. “I have worked with a lot of scrub techs. She is really on her game. She wants to learn and she learns quickly. She is engaged.”
Dr. Whipple also acknowledged the surgeons who are routinely practicing robotic surgery at Meadows, including general surgeons Dr. Kendrix Evans and Dr. Henry Ferland. Women’s Care physicians using the system are Dr. Allana Coggins and Dr. Ashlee Nicole Tillery.
The acquisition of the da Vinci robotic system was critical to Dr. Whipple’s return to Meadows, but he said the big reason he came back to Vidalia was because of his friend and associate CEO Matt Hasbrouck. Hasbrouck served as Chief Operating Officer at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah since February 2018, when it transitioned to HCA Healthcare. He also served as the COO of Fairview Park Hospital in Dublin. At Memorial Health he and Dr. Whipple championed the development and expansion of the robotics program to the second busiest in Georgia. “I was thrilled when he got this job because I knew that he was the right person for it,” Dr. Whipple said of Hasbrouck’s Vidalia position.
Another impetus for Dr. Whipple’s return to Meadows was because HCA Healthcare had assumed ownership of the regional medical center. “In the past I was asked to do bariatrics here, but I was adamant that I would not unless bariatric care was covered in healthcare benefits for employees of the hospital. That was a sticking point for me.” When HCA Healthcare took over, that issue was resolved. There was also a big change in bariatric medicine in Georgia starting in January 2022. At that time, Georgia was one of six states that did not cover bariatric surgery for state employees. During the last recession, in 2020, when money got tight, the benefit was suspended. “I remember that (PA) Jody (Hannah) and I operated close to midnight on the last day of coverage that year because we had state employees approved for surgery who after midnight no longer had those benefits.” The Georgia Chapter of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery took up the cause, and Dr. Whipple accompanied bariatric surgeon Dr. Renee Hilton to the state Capitol in February 2020 where they had a productive meeting with the governor that led to reinstating bariatric surgery as a benefit for state employees.
“It is still OK to consider obesity not a disease and to be prejudiced against people that are obese and deny access to the one medical procedure shown to be effective against obesity. That is still somewhat socially acceptable,” Dr. Whipple said of the struggle to reinstate the benefit. Hasbrouck said of Dr. Whipple, “Having him here was a goal of mine. He is a tremendous clinician, colleague, and friend.” In addition, Hasbrouck noted, “I am very proud of what this team and organization continue to accomplish together for the betterment of our community. We have big town medicine right here — close to home.”