Waters Joins OCH Regional Medical Center as Guest Relations Representative

Patients and visitors at OCH Regional Medical Center are being greeted by a new face as Emily Waters has stepped into the role of guest relations representative.

In this position, Waters is responsible for visiting all inpatients daily and working in conjunction with all hospital departments, such as nursing staff, environmental services, food services, business office and transporters to ensure high-quality customer service and patient/guest satisfaction.  In addition, she analyzes all data and information collected through patient/guest interactions and submits a quarterly report to administration with recommendations to improve patient care and guest relations.  Waters also oversees the Medical Center’s employee recognition program, SHiNE, which stands for Selfless Hospitality In Everyway.

Waters comes to the Medical Center from Mississippi State Department of Health where she was the district IV coordinator and administrator of the WIC program.  A 2005 graduate from Mississippi State University, Waters holds a bachelor’s of science in food science and nutrition and is a registered dietitian.

“From my previous job, I was able to see the benefit of customer service and customer satisfaction. My new position as the guest relations representative allows me the opportunity to make connections with the patients and their families and help them feel as comfortable as possible during their hospital stay,” said Waters, adding that her favorite part of her new position is meeting new people each day.

“Emily brings a unique perspective to the guest relations position because of her registered dietitian credentials.  So many of our patients are on special diet restrictions, and Emily has the knowledge to work as a liaison between the patient and our dietary staff,” explained Water’s supervisor and director of marketing Mel Thurlow.  “Emily’s friendly personality and positive outlook, along with her background makes her an asset for our Medical Center,” continued Thurlow.

Waters is married to Michael Waters of Columbus and they have two children, Ray, (4) and Lennox, (1).  Waters teaches quarterly nutrition classes at Emerson Family School and is a member of the Northeast Mississippi Breastfeeding Coalition, Mississippi Dietetic Association, First United Methodist Church of Starkville, and the Junior Auxiliary of Starkville.


OCH Regional Medical Center Provides Summer Volunteer Program for Students

OCH Regional Medical Center will host a junior auxiliary interest meeting for students ages 13-18 who wish to volunteer at the Medical Center this summer.  Junior volunteer opportunities include front desk receptionist, visiting patient rooms and helping in the gift shop.

“During the summer, our regular auxiliary members take a break from their volunteer duties while students in our community donate their time to serve the hospital and its patients,” said OCH Volunteer Services Coordinator Lauren Gardner.  “Volunteering also provides valuable work experience for these students.  Many of our junior volunteers have an interest in working in the medical field one day, and this gives them a better understanding of what it’s like to work in a hospital-setting,” continued Gardner.

The summer junior volunteer interest meeting will be held Tuesday, May 31 at noon in the nursing classroom.  New members must purchase an apron for $15. For more information, contact Gardner at 662-615-3065 or lgardner@och.org.


OCH Unveils App for Apple Products


OCH Regional Medical Center recently released an app to make access to the Medical Center’s information more accessible to users. The app was created by faculty from the information technology service (ITS) department at OCH.

“When you look at businesses today, everything is going mobile, so we felt that an app would be a great way to connect with the community and our patients by giving them easy, quick access to our services,” said OCH ITS Director/CITO Chamath Wijewardane.  “We’re proud to be one of the few smaller, rural hospitals to jump out there and make this happen,” added Wijewardane.

The app provides a wealth of knowledge for the users at a touch of a button such as, clinics, physicians, services, contact information, and even the hospital cafeteria menu.

“The app is beneficial for not just patients, but also visitors and caregivers who may need additional information such as wayfinding or clinic hours,” said OCH ITS Senior Interface Programmer Mike Kerr, who was instrumental in the app’s development.

To download the app, go to the Apple App Store and search for OCH Regional Medical Center.



OCH Cardiac Rehab: Celebrating 30 Years of Healthy Hearts

Twenty-eight years ago, Carl Nickels walked into a much different cardiac rehab department than the one he attends today.  After suffering from a heart attack in 1988, Nickels was referred by Ben Sanford, MD, to the OCH Cardiac Rehab program.  At that time, the two-year-old program was housed in the hospital’s basement and had only a few pieces of exercise equipment.  Nearly three decades later, the program, which is now housed inside the OCH Healthplex, boasts treadmills, arm ergometers, nustep, tectrix and air dyne bikes, but the changes over the years are much more far reaching than the eye can see.

“I’ve seen the program grow from a couple of bikes and an old rowing machine in the hospital basement to numerous machines in a nice facility,” said Nickels.

The program launched in February 1986 under the direction of Missy Staggers, RN, and Dr. Sanford as the medical director.  For 11 years, cardiac rehab patients met in the hospital basement before the program was moved inside the OCH Healthplex in July 1997, with Elizabeth Varco, RN, as the program director.  But far more has changed than just the location and type of equipment.

“Technology has improved cardiac rehab tremendously,” stated Varco.  “Patients can now exercise and have their hearts monitored simultaneously, and we have a program that records our patients’ exercise sessions and monitors each person’s telemetry.  That has made the program much more efficient,” she explained.

Varco said changes in insurance coverage has also played a big role in the number and type of her patients.

“We’re seeing a lot of patients with more serious heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure, because insurances are now covering cardiac rehab for those patients.  In the past, insurance companies would not cover cardiac rehab, and now, the program is covered by most all insurance companies,” said Varco.  “Patients see the benefits to being active and can build up their strength and have a better quality of life instead of just sitting at home,” she continued.

“We have a comradery in here,” said Nickels.  In other words, I’m not the only one who has a problem,” laughed Nickels as he sat on a stationary bike during one of his regular appointments.

“A lot of the patients stay with us for years in the last phase of the program, so we become more like a close knit family.  There’s really a bond that develops between the patients and the staff,” said Varco.

There are three phases of the cardiac rehab program.  The first phase takes place in the hospital for cardiac diagnostic testing or after a heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, or balloon angioplasty.  Educational materials are provided to the patient and their diet and activity are supervised.  During the second phase, patients begin an individualized outpatient exercise program that is monitored during cardiac rehab appointments.  This phase lasts anywhere from one to four months.  Throughout each session, the participant’s blood pressure, heart rate and cardiac rhythm are monitored closely.

“Some patients start the program very functional, but they may need improvement in the way they take care of their health.  For others, walking in our building is a major accomplishment,” said Varco.  “One of the main purposes of cardiac rehab is to not only prevent further progression of disease, but also to enhance quality of life, so that when participants go home, they can do the things in life that are important,” explained Varco.

The last phase of the program, which is also known as the maintenance program, includes a personalized exercise routine three times a week with limited supervision to encourage independence.  Registered nurses monitor the participant’s blood pressure before and after exercise and obtain a report of their heart rate and rhythm.

Nickels said he quit the phase three part of the program in 2010 to take care of his wife, and the results were detrimental to his health.

“I bought an exercise bike and was going to use it, but that didn’t work out.  I almost died.  When I got back in cardiac rehab, I was suffering from congestive heart failure, obesity, and all of the above.  Liz looked at me and said, ‘Welcome back!’” said Nickels.

Like Nickels, Bob Singletary also knows how important cardiac rehab is to his health. He joined the cardiac rehab program in September 2013, after he had surgery to remove an aneurysm his ascending aorta.

“Going to cardiac rehab is almost like seeing a doctor three times a week, but it’s more fun!  They monitor my heart rate and blood pressure, and I also receive information on diet and nutrition,” said Singletary.  “I highly recommend this program, which does a wonderful job in recovery and maintenance of health and strength,” he continued.

As the medical director of the cardiac rehab program for the span of its existence, Dr. Sanford said the program helps him monitor his patients more closely.

“The EKG (electrocardiogram) monitoring picks up any problems that I need to know about sooner than if the patient waited to schedule an appointment in my office.  Also, Liz keeps a close eye on the lists of medications the patients take, and she lets me know if they’re really taking their medicine like they should,” said Dr. Sanford, adding that the biggest change he’s seen over the last 30 years is the advancements in medicine.

“Most recently, a new injectable treatment on the market helps lowers cholesterol an additional 50%.  Advancements in procedures are helping patients to avoid surgery, and better surgeries are allowing patients to get out of the hospital much more quickly and into cardiac rehab,” continued Dr. Sanford.

“Thirty years is a major accomplishment, and we’ve come a long way,” said Varco. Any time a person’s health improves, it makes an impact on all of society. Because of this program, our patients can now work, participate in Sunday school, visit with their families and play with their grandchildren.”

If you are interested in joining the cardiac rehab program, call (662) 615-2625 for an appointment.  Your physician will then be contacted for approval and to obtain necessary medical records.  For more information, visit och.org/cardiac-rehab.

A Love Story at “The Lounge”

Working is not the optimal way to spend your first wedding anniversary and certainly far from romantic, but a group of nurses at OCH Regional Medical Center got creative to make sure that their coworkers’ first anniversary was one they won’t forget.

Matt and Alison Woods spent their one-year wedding anniversary providing care for their patients at OCH.  Matt, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit, and Alison, a registered nurse in labor and delivery, said they didn’t mind spending their special day caring for others.

“It wasn’t ideal, but we were here together so that made it special,” said Alison Woods.

The two met at East Central Community College in 2008.  He was in his second year of college and played the saxophone in the band, and she was a Centralette just starting her journey to become a RN.  After college, both went to work at the Medical Center and later married on January 24, 2015, a date very special to them as her grandparents celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on that day.

One year later, they started their milestone anniversary by working their 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift in their respective units at the Medical Center.

“I got Matt an omelet from the hospital cafeteria and brought it to him because it was our anniversary.  I mentioned it to the nurses on my floor, and that’s when it all got started,” said Alison Woods.

“Your first anniversary is so special, so we wanted to do something nice for them,” said labor and delivery surgery tech Bella Oswalt who has been married for 10 years, the longest of the group.  “Your wedding is usually a blur, and most other anniversaries are spent going out to eat or to see a movie, or maybe not doing anything. But you always remember your first anniversary,” said Oswalt.

After checking with the house manager, fellow L&D RN Haley Smith clocked out and headed to Walmart.  In 30 minutes, she was back with wedding pictures printed off from Facebook, sparkling water, flameless tealights, a table runner, signs, plastic champagne flutes and plate chargers.

“Walmart was empty because it was during church hours, and we had a very detailed list so we could get back quickly.  We were at the wedding, so we added a few personal touches to remind them of their wedding day,” explained Smith.

Oswalt got busy making “flowers” and a “chandelier” out of tulle she had stashed away in her locker.

“Bella is the creative one.  She always has a bag of tricks,” said L&D RN Kadie Fancher.

“I knew they were up to something, but they wouldn’t let me look,” explained Alison Woods.

What Alison didn’t know was that her coworkers were transforming the nurses’ breakroom into an “upscale restaurant” called “The Lounge,” complete with decorations and signs directing the bride and groom to their destination.  A medical suction bucket acted as a “wine bucket” for the sparkling water and a menu detailed their anniversary dinner which included, cheddar chex mix hot ‘n spicy as the appetizer, pulled pork with cole slaw and “fatteningly fried french cut potatoes” as the main course, and chocolate covered strawberries.firstanniversary

Once the transformation was complete, Alison was led to “The Lounge” where she waited for her husband.

“After I made sure my patients were stable and in good hands with a respiratory therapist and nurse, I went up to Alison’s unit,” said Matt Woods.  “I was in utter shock and pleasantly surprised,” he added.

To top off their anniversary date, “At Last” by Etta James, the song they danced to at their reception, was playing in the background, while Fancher, Smith and Oswalt stood by with their phones to capture the moment.

“It was so nice and thoughtful of them.  Being so close to my coworkers makes it fun to come to work.  I love my work family,” said Alison Woods, jokingly adding that her coworkers went through all the trouble because they actually love Matt more!

“I just try to be nice to everyone,” he said.  “This hospital is like family.  I spend more time with my coworkers than I do with family,” continued Matt Woods.

Truth be told, the couple is equally loved and recognized regularly by their patients and coworkers.

One patient praised Alison in a satisfaction survey writing, “Alison was with me all morning when I was in labor, and even after her shift was over, she stayed with me so that she could be there to help deliver my son.  She was patient and anticipated my needs.  She explained everything that was happening and answered mine and my husband’s questions.”

In December, Matt found an extra Christmas tree in the hospital to put in a patient’s room, along with Christmas music, to help cheer the patient up and feel more at home during the holidays.

“He’s a very good nurse.  He takes care of me when I’m sick, and he’s more nurturing than I am,” admitted Alison Woods.

The couple didn’t actually eat their anniversary dinner together.  Matt took his food back to his unit to be with his patients.  But this Valentine’s Day, the couple will have the day off together, and they plan to relax at home with their cockapoo, Millie, go out to eat and to the movies.

“We chose this career because we’re passionate about nursing,” said Alison Woods. “As nurses, we both understand that celebrating holidays with our loved ones is not a guarantee, and that’s okay with us.”



OCH Officially Opens Much-Needed Wound Center

Published in Starkville Daily News February 3, 2016



OCH Regional Medical Center’s new wound healing and hyperbaric center officially opened its doors to the public on Tuesday, making it the first advanced wound healing facility in the area. Before the center opened, Amory and Meridian were the closest cities that offered an advanced wound healing facility.

“We recognized the need for a wound healing and hyperbaric center in our area and felt it was important to make this service available to our community,” said Mike Andrews, administrator and chief operating officer of OCH.

Starkville residents Mae Louise Nichols and her daughter Nancy Meador stopped by the grand opening to tell the staff how happy they were that OCH has finally opened the center. They’ve been driving long distances for almost a year to find appropriate wound care for Nichols, who went to the doctor for a blister and was told that she had a staph infection on her right leg.

“We’ve had to go way out of town to find someone to treat the wound,” said Meador. “We were in Greenville for eight weeks and after that we started going to Amory to get a doctor to help her. Once a week for the past six months we’ve had to make that drive to get wound care, which is why we are so excited about this place.”

Nichols and Meador took a tour of the center and were able to talk to the doctors and nurses who will be treating Nichols from now on.

“I am so excited to be here,” said Nichols. “I’ve been using this hospital for years and it feels like home to me.”

Thomas McMahon, program director, is hoping that more people like Nichols will be referred to OCH now that the facility is officially open.

“We’re providing outpatient care that’s needed and we’re thrilled to be here,” said McMahon. “We knew we needed an advanced facility in this area and now people don’t have to drive over an hour to get the care they need.”

The center is located on the third floor of OCH and was renovated to make the old labor and delivery rooms into the state-of-the-art facility it is now. The wound healing center provides treatment for those with a wound or infection that hasn’t completely healed within 30 days. Diabetic ulcers, brown recluse spider bites, burns, and other chronic, non healing wounds are all indications that a patient should consult with the center.

“We heal wounds that don’t heal,” said Ron Barrette, the medical director for the healing center. “A lot of people will only heal a little bit when they leave hospitals. We’re here to make sure that you’re fully healed before you leave.”

A large part of the new center is the capability to give patients hyperbaric oxygen therapy as part of their treatment. The treatment raises oxygen per blood flow in a patient which helps their body to naturally heal itself, according to Barrette.

“Once you’re in the chamber, we basically get you down below sea level using Navy diving charts to go by, and then bring you back up when the treatment is done.”

The project to add the wound center to the care options at OCH began in late May 2015 and the renovations were finished in September 2015, according to the board of trustees for OCH.

“We’re looking forward to all the good it will do for the community,” said McMahon.

For more information on the new facility, visit  www.och.org or call the hospital at 662-615-2791.

OCH Regional Medical Center Announces Partnership with MSU College of Arts & Sciences

A partnership between OCH Regional Medical Center and Mississippi State University’s College of Arts & Sciences was announced at a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning for the College’s new Dr. A Randle & Marilyn W. White Pre-Med Advisory Office.

The Office, which is named after MSU alumni and Greenwood physician Dr. White and his wife, is located inside Harned Hall.  This new resource allows students in any of the University’s eight colleges who are in pursuit of medical school the opportunity to receive advising to help them reach their goals.

“This center further emphasizes our focus on helping young people make decisions to see if this is what they truly want to do and gives them sound advice and counsel to help prepare them for medical school,” said Mississippi State University President Dr. Mark Keenum.

In July, OCH Regional Medical Center Administration presented a plan to the Board of Trustees to help further the growth of the Advisory Office.  The Board voted unanimously to give $5,000 for five years for a total of $25,000 for MCAT prep courses to help pay for the course instructor, print materials, and other supplies.  In addition, OCH will give $10,000 each year over the next five years for a total of $50,000 to award scholarships to junior and senior pre-medical students with financial need.  The funding must be used to defray the costs of preparing for and taking the MCAT or applying to and visiting medical schools.

“We see this as planting a seed in students’ lives as they face the anxiety of preparing for and applying for medical school and a long road with many choices throughout the process.  We hope by participating in this program we’re able to relieve some of that anxiety from a financial standpoint. Taking the MCAT is a passage these students must go through to get to the next point, and we’re so pleased to be a part of it,” said OCH Regional Medical Center Administrator/CEO Richard Hilton.

As a nephrologist for more than 40 years, Dr. White said admittance into medical school is a much more complicated process than when he was a student.

“There’s no longer just the MCAT and the grades, but now, students must participate in shadowing programs and have community service hours. I’m so proud that we have this place where students can get guidance and support,” said Dr. White.  “They can also be told if a door closes over here, maybe we can open another over there. Don’t give up. You can do it. This can happen,” he continued.

Dr. White, as well as Dr. Keenum, thanked the Medical Center for its support by providing scholarships to students.

“Helping students prepare to take the MCAT is such an important part of them getting into medical school.  We have a wonderful relationship with the hospital, and that’s something we really cherish,” stated Dr. Keenum.

“We’re a different hospital because of the presence of Mississippi State University, not only from an education standpoint but also from an economic and development standpoint.  If we recruit a doctor who attended Mississippi State and they bleed maroon, and the spouse also attended Mississippi State, that’s a double win on redirecting them back here to Starkville,” said Hilton, adding that the Medical Center plans to be a part of this program for the long term.


Deadline Approaching for Colon Cancer Awareness Tag to Make It to the Streets

Thursday, October 15 is the deadline for Mississippians to pre-order a new specialty car tag that reads, “Prevent Colon Cancer…Get Screened!”  In order for these license plates to end up on the bumpers of vehicles, a minimum of 300 at $31 each must be pre-ordered.

“All money from the car tag sales goes back to UMMC’s (University of Mississippi Medical Center) special fund to communicate and educate the importance of screening and the prevention of colon cancer,” explained Samuel Pace, MD. “It helps in two ways—people see it and say, ‘you know, I should get screened,’ and then the money goes back to help us spread the message.”

This special fund is referred to as 70×2020– an effort to ensure that at least 70% of Mississippians are up-to-date with recommended colorectal cancer screening by the year 2020.  The Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative that began at a small round table meeting at UMMC in April 2014, is now supported by a growing partnership of more than 30 organizations and individual champions.  It’s a cause that hits close to home for Dr. Pace.  Not only because he’s a gastroenterologist, but also because he’s beaten colon cancer not once, but twice, and attributes screenings to saving his life.

“On my very first day of chemotherapy, I ended up talking to one of my former patients that I had diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago,” Dr. Pace said. “It gave me a little extra kick to my step that day because he had lived 20 years because he had a colonoscopy, and I knew how important those 20 years had been to him. I thought to myself, my work is not done.”

After attending a seminar on colon cancer led by Dr. Roy Duhe’, UMMC Professor and Director of Cancer Education, Dr. Duhe’ talked to Dr. Pace about taking on the role of physician champion to increase screening rates for colon cancer in the state of Mississippi.  Now Dr. Pace’s focus has changed from hands-on patient care to prevention.

“I took an oath when I became a physician, and even though I got colon cancer, I’m still honoring that oath.  After I was first diagnosed, my son shared a motto with me. It says, ‘You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.’”

Inspired by the redesign of the breast cancer awareness car tag by a fellow church member and graphic designer, Leslie Geoghegan, Dr. Pace approached her about designing a colon cancer awareness tag.

“Within a couple of hours, she sent me a few options and we decided on this design.  Then, we presented the mock up car tag at the state-wide kick off for the 70×2020 campaign.  My wife’s sister, [Representative] Margaret Ellis Rodgers, [R-District 14] introduced the bill, and the governor signed it.  Now we’re working hard to get 300 presales,” said Dr. Pace.

Mississippi currently has the highest colorectal cancer death rate in the nation. Dr. Pace attributes that to the paucity of gastroenterologists in regions such as the Delta, lack of education, and the fact that most people are simply not comfortable discussing that part of their anatomy.

“The 70×2020 partners are trying to overcome these obstacles, and we believe that any validated screen is better than no screen. In geographic areas or in populations where access to colonoscopies may be limited, 70×2020 partners are promoting the use of less expensive, high-quality screening tests, such as FOBT [fecal occult blood test],” said Dr. Pace, adding that if all eligible people get screened, colon cancer deaths can be reduced by 90%.

“I got to thinking about it…if I hadn’t gotten the screening, I wouldn’t have met four of my grandchildren.  I wouldn’t have seen Mississippi State be number one in the nation!” said Dr. Pace.

A recent report from the American Cancer Society shows that colon cancer in older adults has decreased by 30% in the last decade. Despite that encouraging statistic, colorectal cancer is still predicted to be the third most common and third most deadly cancer in the U.S. All men and women 50 and older should be screened, and those who have a family history of colorectal cancer should begin screening earlier.

To order a colon cancer awareness tag, visit



For an appointment with one of Dr. Pace’s associates at Digestive Health Specialists, call 662-324-7484.



Peterson Joins OCH Medical Associates as Certified Family Nurse Practitioner

OCH Medical Associates is proud to announce the addition of certified family nurse practitioner Meg Peterson, FNP-C.

Peterson has special interests in managing chronic illnesses including hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Meg Peterson, FNP-C

Meg Peterson, FNP-C

After earning her bachelors of science in nursing from Mississippi University for Women in 2008, Peterson began working at OCH Regional Medical Center as a registered nurse in the medical unit.  She earned her masters of science in nursing from MUW in 2011 and has practiced at the OCH Regional Health Clinic and the OCH Center for Breast Health over the past four years.

“Meg’s experience makes her a perfect fit at OCH Medical Associates because she has first-hand knowledge treating patients in a hospital environment who have chronic diseases.  Her background, coupled with her compassion for the patients, makes her an excellent health care provider, and we’re so happy to have her on our team,” said OCH Medical Associates Internal Medicine Specialist Ramon Osorio, MD.

“I enjoy getting to know each of my patients and educating them on how they can manage their disease and prevent other illnesses.  My goal in earning my master’s degree was to learn more about the management of chronic diseases so that I could better treat my patients and help them live healthier, more fulfilling lives,” explained Peterson.

Peterson is a member of Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society and Mississippi Nurses Association.  She and her family attend Pinelake Church, and during her free time, she enjoys tennis, sewing and reading.

OCH Medical Associates is located at 107 Brandon Road in Starkville.  Clinic hours are Monday – Thursday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. – Noon. For an appointment with Peterson, call 662-615-3771; however, walk-ins are welcome.  For more information about OCH Medical Associates, visit och.org/och-medical-associates.


OCH Pharmacy Director Named MPhA Member of the Year


OCH Regional Medical Center Pharmacy Director Andy Andrews has been named Mississippi Pharmacists Association’s Member of the Year at the organization’s recent awards banquet.

“The Member of the Year Award is presented to a member who has demonstrated impeccable commitment to the association, dedicated his personal time and energy to furthering the objectives of the association, and is active in all aspects of the association,” said Kathryn Ayers, MPhA Nominations and Awards Committee Chair.  “We are proud to have Andy as a member of our team and thankful for his service and commitment to the association,” she continued.

Andrews has been working at OCH for more than 25 years and has served as the pharmacy director for 21 of those years.  As an employee at OCH, Andrews serves on the pharmacy and infection control committee, forms committee, retirement committee and quality outcomes committee.

“Andy is an individual who is very well respected among his peers.  People seek him out for advice on how to improve operations within the hospital, and he’s always willing to help in any situation,” said OCH Administrator/CEO Richard Hilton, adding that Andrews is a team player.  “He’s a valuable asset that I am very proud of, and I know the people of this community are proud that he’s a part of the OCH healthcare system.”

Andrews has been a member of MPhA for 25 years and has served on the MPhA Executive Committee and the MS Pharmacy Foundation Board of Directors. He has served for 20 consecutive years on at least one MPhA Committee, including chairing the Education Committee.


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