Those attempting to weigh the significance of the Ashland Community Hospital Foundation’s Patrons Campaign should meet Rosie. She’s not much of a conversationalist, needs a little help to get around and has no sense of humor to speak of, but she never makes mistakes or requires a break at Asante Ashland Community Hospital.

That’s because Rosie is a robot, and although it has no pulse and collects no paycheck, its presence at AACH has made life a little less complicated for patients in the hospital’s critical care unit since the unit went live last December and very soon is expected to have the same sort of impact in the emergency department.

Rosie the robot was purchased for a little under $60,000 with the funds raised during last year’s Ashland Community Hospital Foundation Patrons Campaign. This year’s Patrons Campaign kicked off a few weeks ago with the slogan “4 for our 40th,” a reference to the four items — a DEXA scanner, upgrades in the emergency department, nursing scholarships and surgical equipment — foundation organizers are targeting with funds raised from its 40th annual campaign.

Rosie the robot was the big target during last year’s campaign, and it’s proven to be a good investment, according to Susan Montgomery, AACH’s vice president of nursing, who helped implement the robot and train staff how to operate it.

What does Rosie do, exactly? Essentially, Montgomery explains, it’s equipped with all the hardware necessary to allow specialists at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center’s intensive care unit in Medford to thoroughly examine patients remotely. In fact, those intensivists don’t even need to be at Rogue Regional; they can be at home, using their phone to complete the examination.

“It has a very sophisticated lens that can zoom in on the tiniest detail to do a visual assessment,” Montgomery said of Rosie, which comes equipped with a computer monitor mounted on a mobile pole and interfaces with AACH’s clinical software. “Also, you can auscultate, or listen to heart sounds or breath sounds. So they can interview the patient, do a complete exam both physically and through verbal communication with the patient and with the provider. Our hospitalist on this end or our emergency department physician on this end are on that team as well during that process.”

Montgomery estimates that Rosie is called into action about 10 times a month, a number that’s expected to go up soon now that the hospital’s emergency department providers are able to use it. Montgomery said the second and final phase of training for the emergency department was completed Wednesday.

The benefits of having access to Rogue Regional’s doctors are many, Montgomery said, and so far patients have given Rosie favorable reviews.

“That’s exactly the value of it,” Montgomery said. “At Asante Ashland Community Hospital we don’t have intensivists, so our sickest patients here — maybe in the emergency department or critical care — have access now to the intensivists at Rogue in partnership with our hospitalists, and it basically provides an improved utilization of our resources to improve the patient outcomes. So the intensivists, they’re going to provide treatment options, consultations, guidance, recommendations, answer questions. It’s just like having a specialist come on campus, but they’re doing it remotely.”

And often times, Rosie’s versatility is much more than a luxury — it’s an absolute necessity.

“The access for care is so important when it’s critical and you have to diagnose and treat a serious condition in the most timely way,” Montgomery said. “So we’ve found that to be very valuable and we use it frequently. It’s not a rare occasion. We optimize it on behalf of our patients whenever possible, and it’s been very well received by our patients and their families as well.”

Foundation senior development officer Stephanie Roland said the upgrades associated with this year’s fund drive could have just as much impact, and noted that the campaign is already off to a great start, as an anonymous donor has pledged to match the first $40,000 dollar-for-dollar.

The campaign raises anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 on average, Roland says, and this year the foundation is aiming high because one item on its list, the DEXA scanner, will cost the hospital about $80,000 all by itself.

AACH performs more than 1,200 scans per year on average to assess three major health conditions — osteoporosis, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and the new scanner will provide more accurate diagnosis and help doctors better treat osteoporosis, degenerative bone disease and fracture risk.

Roland said the DEXA scanner currently in use at AACH is nearing the end of its life and the radiologists on staff believe it’s time for an upgrade.

“Such advancements have been made in image quality that we really want to take the next step,” she said. “The clarity of the image really will make it a better tool for our physicians and helps them better serve our patients. Also, they’ve changed the design of the scanner itself so it’s much more comfortable for patients.”

In order to use AACH’s current DEXA scanner, patients must lay on their side, an uncomfortable position to be in for those with bone conditions. The new scanner will allow patients to lay on their backs, and it will complete its scan much quicker than the older version.

“What we have now is still highly functional and it gets the job done,” Roland said, “it’s just that the advancements in technology are so much better and we want to be able to offer the latest.”

Those who wish to donate to the foundation can visit its website at www.achfoundation.org and click on the "Donate Today" box, or call Roland at 541-201-4019.

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.