Leaders react to hospital closing

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2012

As news spread throughout Chilton County regarding the closure of Chilton Medical Center on Monday, concern for residents needing immediate healthcare and figuring out ways to deal with the aftermath was apparent.

“The hospital closing is a tragedy for Chilton County,” Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell said. “For a community our size to have lost our hospital is terrible.”

Stilwell said in his tenure with the Clanton Police Department, numerous victims who have experienced stabbings, shootings or tragic accidents have been taken to CMC before being transported to larger hospitals such as UAB or Jackson Hospital in Montgomery.

“A lot of times those people who need medical attention, need it immediately and will not survive the long trip to a larger hospital,” Stilwell said. “The CMC would stabilize them until they could get critical care, and it was very beneficial because those people would not have lived if they would not have gone to CMC for stabilization. Whether it is an assault or a traffic accident, we now have to go out of town to have it taken care of.”

Stilwell is also concerned for his 30 police officers that often get hurt while on the job with injuries that are not necessarily severe but require immediate attention.

“It is going to cost a lot more money to drive an officer that has gotten injured to Birmingham while they are on duty to be treated for an injury that requires immediate care,” Stilwell said.

Since Jan. 1 the CPD has had 581 reported accidents with 236 of them requiring a trip to the hospital.

“It is just really hard to hear and I don’t know if there is any resolution, but I hope they come to one, and come to one soon,” Stilwell said.

State Rep. Kurt Wallace said he received a call early Monday while in Prattville, from state Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson informing him the hospital would be closing.

“It wasn’t something that I wasn’t prepared to hear, but it is not a good thing for our county to have the hospital shut down,” Wallace said.

Wallace said the economic impact on the county is going to be substantial as many students enrolled in the nursing program at Jefferson State Community College in Clanton have the opportunity to train at the hospital while pursuing their degree.

“It is hard for those students to go and learn how to further their careers and receive jobs upon graduation if there is no hospital for them to train at,” Wallace said.

Chilton Medical Center is operated by Clanton Hospital, LLC, a subsidiary of Carraway Medical Systems, Inc. Clanton Hospital leases the hospital facility from Central Alabama Medical Associates, LLC, a subsidiary of Sunlink Health Systems, Inc.

CAMA held an ownership interest in Clanton Hospital at one time but divested itself of its interest in March 2011.

Williams said the closure on Monday was the result of the hospital being unable to make payroll.

Wallace said some of the issues with the hospital have stemmed from the entities involved not wanting to come together and work out an agreement.

“I think a common misconception a lot of people have is CMC is not owned by the county,” Wallace said. “This is a privately held company. I think it is good that both entities are coming together to talk about things, and if SunLink and the Carraway group don’t want to have anything to do with us, then we will start from scratch and end up with a hospital that is in our control.”

Although Wallace said he remains optimistic things will be OK, the reality that travel time to the nearest hospital has increased 30 minutes is something of concern for Care Ambulance, Lifestar response unit operations manager Dewayne Watley.

“I am afraid the mortality rate is going to skyrocket,” Watley said. “When you add 25 minutes to somebody not being able to breathe, those minutes count.”

Currently, residents throughout the county will be transported to Shelby Medical Center or Prattville Baptist, both 30 miles from Chilton County.

Watley said for his ambulance company, the price to travel to another hospital is $13 a mile requiring his company to acquire another ambulance to be stationed in the county.

“We are going to have to have another ambulance because we are going to be driving out of town so much,” Watley said. “ It is approximately 30.3 miles to the nearest hospital and having that distance to travel is oftentimes the result of life and death. I am tremendously disheartened at the news, and it is going to be a rough road ahead.”

Chilton County Commission Chairman Tim Mims said Monday was a sad day for employees, their families and for Chilton County as a whole.

“There have been so many lives saved right there in that emergency room,” Mims said. “My heart and prayers go out to the employees and their families in this time.”

CMC officials will have an opportunity to present a plan for the hospital’s future on Nov. 8 in Montgomery.

Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver said the news wasn’t a shock but one of the worst things that could happen to Chilton County.

“It is not good when you lose your only hospital or emergency facility but it is not all over yet,” Driver said. “We have a lot of folks worried, but we will do our best to get something figured out as soon as we can.”