Men wanting to purchase hospital solicit public for supportBy Stephen Dawkins Published 2:59pm Friday, July 12, 2013
Two Tallassee men wanting to purchase the Chilton Medical Center property and re-open the hospital spoke to Chilton County residents on Thursday.
Billy McKenzie, who has owned and operated several hospitals in his career, and Joel Burdette, who recently retired as a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Marine Corps and would manage the hospital, provided information about their effort and encouraged about 80 residents in attendance to support them in their fist step: obtaining a Certificate of Need, a state-issued license to operate a health care facility.
CMC’s Certificate of Need is held by the hospital’s defunct previous operator. McKenzie and Burdette have petitioned Circuit Court Judge John Bush to either transfer the CON to them or terminate it so that any interested party could apply for a new one.
Bush will consider the petitions at a hearing at 1:30 p.m. on July 25 at the Chilton County Courthouse.
Though Burdette and McKenzie said they are not in opposition to any other effort to open a hospital in Chilton County, a transfer of the CON to them would hinder the Chilton County Hospital Board’s endeavor to build a new hospital facility and have it operated by St. Vincent’s Health System.
State Rep. Kurt Wallace addressed the Burdette and McKenzie about his concerns, including the possibility that they are given the CON only to have their plan to re-open the hospital not come to fruition.
“I don’t know that I want you guys to control the CON for Chilton County,” Wallace said.
Allen Payton and Sibley Reynolds with the hospital board said Friday that their group sought to purchase the CMC property–even contacting McKenzie about the possibility–but faced challenges including debt and liens attached to the property, and renovations needed to bring the facility up to code.
The board ultimately decided to pursue a new facility funded through a 1-cent sales tax increase in the county.
McKenzie said at the meeting that he thought needed renovations would cost less than estimated and most of the debt attached to the property would be cleared by bankruptcy.
Reynolds and Payton said they expect Burdette and McKenzie to run into the same problems the hospital board encountered as their effort to purchase the property progresses.
“We have no confidence they’ll be able to pull this off,” Payton said.
Asked at the meeting if there was an agreement in place with the owner to purchase the hospital property, Burdette said negotiations were ongoing.
At the meeting held in Friendship Baptist Church’s sanctuary, Burdette said he and McKenzie want to offer a “ray of hope” for residents who have been without a local hospital since October 2012.
The two men presented their background and plan for about 45 minutes and then took questions from attendees for about an hour.
Audience member Karen Armstrong said a crucial element of any plan would be educating the public.
“I think there would be a lot more support if there was understanding that [the Chilton Medical Center property] does not belong to the county,” Armstrong said.
Aubrey Brown, who said he is a lifelong Chilton County resident, stood behind the podium at the end of the meeting and said people should support some way to bring a hospital back to the county.
“We need it done yesterday, folks,” he said.