Session to provide information about effort to re-open hospital

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chilton County residents will have an opportunity Thursday to learn more about an effort to re-open Chilton Medical Center.

Bill McKenzie and Joel Burdette, two men working together to purchase the CMC property and perform the renovations necessary for the facility to again serve as a hospital, will hold an information session from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday at Friendship Baptist Church.

The public is invited to attend the session to learn more about the pair’s plan. They will also take questions at the end of the session.

McKenzie’s and Burdette’s effort is separate from that of the Chilton County Hospital Board, which has secured the support of the Chilton County Commission and state legislators representing the county to enact a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund the construction of a new hospital.

Residents seem to be split about whether a new tax-funded hospital or re-opening the old one under private ownership would be preferable. Two Facebook groups, “Petition to Re-Open Chilton County Hospital” and “Chilton County Coalition for a New Hospital,” have formed.

But Burdette said he and McKenzie don’t consider their effort to be adversarial to anyone else’s.

“We’re not in competition or contest with anything that the county commission is doing,” he said. “We’re proposing our plan. We’re not asking anybody to take sides because I don’t see sides.”

McKenzie boasts a wealth of experience in hospital administration. He grew up in Tallassee and was part of the rebuilding of the hospital there in 1972, he said. In 1977, McKenzie helped re-open a hospital in Evergreen that had closed. In 1980, his company purchased a hospital in Jackson.

McKenzie said he is proud of his success in the health care industry, especially since he started out with no experience in the field.

“We’ve been able to develop a good program, primarily because I didn’t have any preconceived ideas when I went into the hospital business, so I wasn’t afraid to ask for help,” he said.

Burdette and McKenzie are both Tallassee natives. Burdette said he considers McKenzie a mentor and decided to pursue this venture with him after recently retiring from military duty.

“I have the experience, and he has the ambition and the intellectual ability,” McKenzie said. Burdette added, “Leadership is leadership, whether it’s in the Marines or leading a hospital in a new direction.”

Burdette said their interest in the situation is based on them being able to help.

“I’ve heard Mr. McKenzie say there are two things people need: health care and the Lord,” Burdette said. “I subscribe to that same philosophy. I simply want to create a service and provide an opportunity for folks to receive health care. I simply want to help.”

McKenzie said he was contacted about purchasing the CMC property about two years ago, but the owner leased the property to an operator that is now defunct, leaving the hospital closed since October 2012 and mired in complications.

“I’ve been in hospitals a long time, and I have never seen a more complicated deal,” McKenzie said of the situation of re-opening the hospital. Burdette added, “There are literally so many skeletons in the closet that continue to get revealed. The board said, ‘I don’t want to deal with it,’ and I don’t blame them.”

McKenzie said he also had conversations with hospital board members when their focus was still on re-opening CMC instead of building a new hospital.

The board changed course when it became clear how much time, effort and money would have to be put into CMC, including bringing the facility up to code, but McKenzie said he thinks the necessary work can be done for about $1 million, a reasonable amount.

McKenzie said he and Burdette have talked to the company that owns the property, but before a purchase could be made, they would have to secure a Certificate of Need, a state-issued license to operate a hospital.