Initiative Enhancing Children’s Healthcare in Rural Georgia
Children who receive care from the pediatric team at Memorial Health Meadows Hospital are in very capable hands. With a pediatric surgeon and a pediatric hospitalist on staff, a Vidalia children’s clinic headed by two, full-time pediatricians, and a nationally- recognized Maternity Center with expert services for mothers and newborns, Meadows is able to offer comprehensive services close to home.
“We are committed to providing safe, high-quality, and convenient care for kids in our community” said Matt Hasbrouck, CEO, at Meadows Hospital.
The highly-skilled pediatrics team serving patients locally includes pediatricians Dr. Caryn Masterman-Smith and Dr. Joshua Pittman at Memorial Health Meadows Physicians-Children’s Care practice. Dr. Alexandria Mayne is a pediatric hospitalist who provides care for babies in the hospital’s labor and delivery unit as well as for any children who are in the hospital. Pediatric surgeon, Dr. Andrew Bozeman performs surgeries in Vidalia. “We often see children’s emergencies in our 24-hour ER and level IV trauma center,” Hasbrouck said.
“Meadows Hospital enjoys a great relationship with the Memorial Health Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah. Memorial Health has been home to southeast Georgia’s only children’s hospital for more than 30 years; we’re both HCA Healthcare facilities so we work together well,” Hasbrouck pointed out. Two of Meadows’ pediatricians – Dr. Mayne and Dr. Pittman – both completed their pediatric residency at the Memorial Health Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah.
Meadows also transfers pediatric patients who require more specialized care to the Children’s Hospital of Savannah. The new freestanding facility opened in 2021 and boasts an 18-room ER, a 14-room pediatric ICU, 4 operating rooms and more than 40 pediatric subspecialists. The Children’s Hospital of Savannah also has a 92bed neonatal ICU and a dedicated transport ambulance and team. “If a child needs specialized care, we will stabilize the patient at Meadows Hospital and facilitate transfer to the Children’s Hospital of Savannah,” Hasbrouck said.
Pediatric Surgeon Andrew Bozeman Dr. Bozeman, who has had an office in Vidalia for the last year and a half, started performing surgery at Meadows on a routine basis about six months ago. He also maintains offices in Warner Robins and in Dublin, his primary base.
“We can deliver care right here at home in most instances. When we are able to deliver care closer to home, quickly and efficiently, and deliver it with a home town touch, that builds bonds and trust. You are doing what is best for the patient, and that is what we are trying to do here,” Dr. Bozeman emphasized.
“We’re on the front edge of continuing to build a practice that dovetails with a rural health initiative. With a telehealth network, so much is accessible, but there are still times when a medical condition necessitates travel to see subspecialists,” the pediatric surgeon emphasized.
Dr. Bozeman is a part of a rural health initiative established by Mercer University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Children’s). Mercer and Children’s announced in February that they would be working together on a project dedicated to improving pediatric healthcare in rural Georgia overall.
The announcement was made by Governor Brian Kemp at the State Capitol and includes pilot programs established at five rural hospitals in Georgia that are specifically focused on improving access to pediatric care close to home. The affiliation will be funded by a dedicated and long-term sustainable fund of $200 million that Children’s Board of Trustees allocated in 2022.
Bozeman, who serves on the executive board for the program, explained that since the initiative is aimed at enhancing health care for children in medically underserved areas, he was tapped to participate. “I represent rural health care,” he said.
Dr. Bozeman explained, “I am a little bit of an anomaly because the area in which I practice is rural. Most pediatric surgeons practice in large, metropolitan areas.” Born and raised on a farm in rural Laurens County, the surgeon could have located anywhere, but he wanted to live and bring up his children in his hometown.
Dr. Bozeman earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and his medical degree from the Mercer University School of Medicine. He served his general surgery residency and internship at the Medical Center of Central Georgia/Mercer University in Macon. He was a pediatric surgery clinical fellow and pediatric surgery research fellow at Arkansas Children’s Hospital/ University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. He was appointed assistant professor of Pediatric Surgery, Department of Surgery, Mercer University School of Medicine, and is a pediatric specialist at Fairview Park Hospital in Dublin, where his primary practice is established.
The Mercer alumnus pointed out that one of the top priorities that Mercer had already identified is an urgent need for more pediatricians throughout Georgia. To help increase access to pediatricians in rural counties, Children’s is funding 10 full-tuition scholarships in 2023 through a program at Mercer University School of Medicine for medical students specializing in pediatrics who commit to serving in rural Georgia for at least four years after residency.
Mercer opened additional four-year MD campuses in Savannah in 2008 and in Columbus in 2021. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the school’s primary teaching hospitals, one of which is Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, an HCA Healthcare partner with Meadows.
“Mercer’s mission is to supply rural and medically underserved areas with primary care physicians, so this (initiative) is very timely,” Dr. Bozeman noted. The initiative is based on thinking beyond the reach of what is typical. Another purpose of the project is that it will allow Mercer’s School of Medicine to leverage its demonstrated understanding of healthcare needs in rural communities to conduct and evaluate the pilot programs made possible by the initiative. Children’s will provide the specialized pediatric clinical knowledge needed to launch and sustain those programs.
Dr. Bozeman’s pediatric practice often serves patients from two to three hours away from his offices. He stressed that a lot of Georgia’s population resides in rural areas and this fact necessitates the need for collaboration between rural outposts and a network of facilities equipped to take care to the next level.
Dr. Bozeman praised the area pediatricians who are part of the healthcare team and who refer patients to him. “They are first line. It is a partnership.” He observed about his role, “Pediatric surgeons are the last of true general surgeons. While in the adult world, care is somewhat divided between subspecialists, pediatric surgeons have held onto a complete scope of practice. We don’t operate on bones, brains or hearts, but we do operate on hernias, urinary issues, tongue ties, ganglion cysts, and more. Sometimes it is easier to describe what we don’t do.” Memorial Health Meadows Physicians-Children’s Care Dr. Caryn Masterman-Smith Pediatrician Dr. Caryn Masterman-Smith has been treating children in Vidalia since January of 2010, when she joined Dr. Noonan at the Meadows children’s clinic which opened in 2009.
Originally from Hollywood, Florida, Dr. Masterman- Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and a master of science degree from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. She decided to depart a warm climate for one of the coldest cities in the U.S. and earned her doctor of osteopathic medicine degree at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Chicago. “I did not like the cold,” she admitted.
She returned to her native state and completed her pediatric residency at Miami Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida. Soon thereafter she started a practice in South Florida, but found it to be too busy as she was starting a family. She and her husband began looking for a less stressful location, and it was actually her husband who found Howard Holman, a former executive with Meadows Hospital, who encouraged the young doctor and her family to move to Vidalia. “I wasn’t sure how I would like a small town. I certainly didn’t think I would be here 13 years, but I found it to be my calling to practice in a small town.”
After joining the children’s clinic, the practice expanded to four physicians. At that point, the clinic was situated near City Drug near the previous site of Meadows Hospital which opened its new location in 2011. “We outgrew that site and moved downtown on Church Street,” Dr. Masterman-Smith recalled.
The Center at the Church Street location is busier than ever, seeing patients not just from the immediate Vidalia area but far beyond. “We have patients from Swainsboro, Statesboro, Baxley, Hazlehurst, and Dublin. We realize that we have built something really special here and families know we are able to offer good care,” the pediatrician said. While the clinic deals with the usual illnesses, there are also more complex cases like diabetes and pediatric cancer, which are primarily treated by specialists but which require monitoring and auxiliary care at the clinic.
The clinic has five, fulltime health care providers including a physician’s assistant and two nurse practitioners. Cheerfully decorated in kid-friendly motifs, the center is inviting and warm.
“I always loved kids and knew I wanted to do pediatrics,” Dr. Masterman- Smith said of her gravitation toward pediatric medicine. “I had the most wonderful pediatrician growing up; he always made me feel comfortable and he listened.”
The mother of two boys is active in the community and has served as the pediatric medical director for Community Hospice. During the COVID- 19 pandemic she joined Meadows staff and Public Health personnel who helped to educate the community about pandemic protocols and to set up vaccine clinics.
Dr. Joshua Pittman
Dr. Joshua Pittman, who recently joined the staff at Memorial Health Meadows Physicians-Chil- continued from page
dren’s Care practice, is originally from Orlando, Florida, but moved to Lyons at age 10. His family still lives in Toombs County.
Dr. Pittman earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at Georgia State University, a master’s degree in medical sciences, and a medical degree at Morehouse School of Medicine.
“At one time I thought I might go into internal medicine, but I gravitated toward pediatrics. I enjoy being around kids and it is a perfect fit,” said the doctor who has two brothers and a sister, and an extended family who enjoy gathering for special occasions.
The bachelor is active in the community. He remains involved in the Young Black Professionals of Savannah which aims to connect people and help them build rapport with the community. He volunteers for and is on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Toombs County. He also worked with Project Alpha to increase awareness about sexual health.
He is enthusiastic about the Mercer-Children’s pediatric healthcare project in rural Georgia. His alma mater, Morehouse, has a similar objective to Mercer’s for building a team of pediatricians to serve rural Georgia. “We had rural rotations while I was in training at Morehouse,” he said.
The Clinic has already partnered with the Medical College of Georgia to offer pediatric training rotations and is now partnering with Mercer on a childhood obesity grant pilot project which will recruit the families of local patients to participate.
Most of the clinic staff have strong ties to the surrounding community. Physician’s Assistant Archie Kirkley is from Johnson Corner. Nurse practitioner Courtney Ragan is from Claxton. Another nurse practitioner, Sarah Toler of Reidsville, has been associated with the clinic since 2010, when she worked there as an LPN. She went back to school to earn her RN and nurse practitioner degrees and rejoined the staff. Office Manager Michelle Maybin, a former school teacher who decided to change her educational career for health care, has been with the clinic for 10 years.