Leaders can find solution to health care issue

Published 6:48 am Tuesday, November 6, 2012

By Mike Kelley

Chilton Medical Center’s forced closing once again creates a need for city and county leaders to step up and plan a solution to assure emergency medical care for county residents.

More than 20 years ago Chilton County residents faced the threat that our hospital could close. Financial difficulties brought the Chilton County Hospital Board to the conclusion that sale of the hospital offered the only solution. The facility was sold to Baptist Medical Centers of Birmingham with the expectation this would assure continuation of hospital and emergency care in the county.

Since then the ownership of the hospital has changed repeatedly, mainly due to the small number of local patients using the facility. That situation left the hospital with insufficient income. People have the right to choose where they receive medical care, and I am certainly not suggesting those who chose to go elsewhere are to blame for the hospital’s current difficulties. But, having served seven years on the county hospital board and a couple of years on Sunlink Health Systems’ local board when it operated Chilton Medical Center, the patient census every day was always a concern.

Logically, the true problem is our location relative to medical facilities in Montgomery and Birmingham. Many with major medical problems go there, as was the choice in my household when faced with such. When a county is located as we are between two major cities, is crossed by an I-65 with multiple exits, the time to reach larger cities is reduced and much is available in a short time that is not possible to offer in the smaller community.

This means our solution must be a hybrid, something between a 24-hour emergency room and transfer point for those in critical condition and perhaps combined with a long-term care facility. The effort, in my layman’s opinion, needs to be in this direction.

Closing of the hospital and its important emergency room facilities will be detrimental not only to people who need care but the long term economic growth of the county as well. The immediate effect is the loss of 150 hospital jobs and in the future, companies and industries considering locating here may be reluctant to do so if medical care is not considered adequate.

There is no simple, quick solution to the hospital closing problem. It is important that this newspaper fully cover the matter as to news events, background of how other communities solved or are solving similar problems and needs and responsible opinion of the newspaper and the people of our area. Other businesses, elected officials and good citizens need to meet and work together seeking the right solution for Clanton and Chilton County. Peggy and I lived in Chilton County for more than 30 years and raised our family here. Because I know the people and leadership of Chilton County, I am confident they will work together and find a workable solution to meet the county’s needs. I hope and expect such efforts are already underway. It is a time in Chilton County for its leaders to stand up and lead.

Editor’s note: Mike Kelley is former editor, publisher and stockholder of The Clanton Advertiser who retired in 2010 after 34 years in that role. While he and his wife, Peggy, who worked with him, now live on Lake Martin, they continue to have interest and concern for the future of Chilton County. The Advertiser asked Mike to give our readers his thoughts in this column, and we appreciate him doing so.