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Fire code violations must be addressed before hospital could re-open

Published 5:15pm Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chilton Medical Center’s condition is proving to be an obstacle to re-opening Chilton County’s only hospital to the public.

State inspectors were in Clanton last week and found several fire code violations in the building, which was built in the 1950s, said Allen Payton with the Chilton County Hospital Board.

“The report was not good,” Payton said. “The hospital has some real deficiencies.”

The hospital board has an agreement in place to purchase the hospital if it can be found to be financially viable, and an analysis of the business’ financial condition is ongoing.

The inspection was followed by the Alabama Department of Public Health cancelling the hospital’s license and provider numbers for Medicare and Medicaid, but Payton said he thinks that action is not necessarily a setback because it removes the company that formerly operated the hospital from the picture completely.

“They may have done us a favor,” Payton said about the state. “If we had kept [the same license], there may have been some liability that could have come with future audits. Now, if the county does decide to buy, we’re going to have a clean slate to start with.”

Before the hospital board could apply for a new license, it will have to make a decision about purchasing the property. The cost of upgrades needed to comply with the fire code will be a significant part in the decision, Payton said.

Local architect Barry Davis is studying the upgrades that would need to be made and will report back to the board about an amount they should expect to have to pay.

“We won’t really know anything until he gets back to me, and it’s going to be a few days,” Payton said. “If he comes back with millions of dollars of repairs we have to make…Obviously, we don’t have that kind of money, so we would have to come up with the funding somewhere, or at some point you have to think about whether it would be better to just look into building a new [hospital].”

In the meantime, the board has worked out an extension of the purchase agreement with the hospital’s owner to allow for an adequate amount of time to evaluate the hospital’s condition and make a decision. The original purchase agreement had a deadline of March 15.

“If we get to the point where we feel like it’s affordable (to resolve the building’s safety issues), we’ll go ahead and exercise the agreement to purchase it,” Payton said. “The next phase would be to figure out who is going to run it or own it.”

Several parties have expressed interest in managing the hospital or perhaps purchasing it from the hospital board.

“The board’s goal is to make sure we’re not back in this situation two years from now,” Payton said. “It’s been like a revolving door. Every time we think we’re headed in the right direction, something changes.”

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