County enters into agreement with St. Vincent’s to operate proposed hospital

Published 9:58 am Monday, September 16, 2013

Chilton County health care officials have entered into a formal agreement with St. Vincent’s Health System for the operation of a proposed medical facility in the county.

The Chilton County Hospital Board recently approved a “letter of intent” outlining an agreement in which a county-owned hospital facility constructed using funds from a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase would be operated by St. Vincent’s.

“The idea is, at some point we’re going to have a building that is going to be operated by St. Vincent’s Health System off Lay Dam Road,” said Sibley Reynolds, spokesman for the hospital board.

Local leaders, including the county’s state legislative delegation of Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Kurt Wallace, have indicated support for a 1-cent sales tax increase.

Before the tax hike could take effect, the Chilton County Commission would have to pass a resolution supporting the measure, the state Legislature would have to approve it and Chilton County residents would have to vote in favor of the tax increase in an upcoming referendum, possibly in November 2014.

Officials have said the tax increase would not be permanent, instead expiring after the expenses associated with the project were covered.

The Chilton County Hospital Board was established when Chilton Medical Center was built. After the sale of CMC, the board’s primary purpose was helping with indigent care through funds left over from the sale.

When CMC closed in October 2012, the board committed its efforts and funds first to re-opening CMC. The board later decided to focus on the construction of a new facility.

Reynolds said board members were in contact with other health care entities before deciding St. Vincent’s and the opportunity it offered was the best option for Chilton County.

“We’ve considered other options, but when you start looking at really good health services, St. Vincent’s is right there at the top of the list,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds and others have pointed to the St. Vincent’s St. Clair center, which was built by St. Clair County through a bond issue, as a model for the proposed Chilton facility.

“That’s how we got their name to begin with,” Reynolds said. “We were impressed that they were willing to go out and help those people in St. Clair.”

St. Vincent’s Health System also includes several facilities in the Birmingham area and one in Blount County. The company is part of Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic and non-profit health system, operating in 20 states and the District of Columbia, according to St. Vincent’s website.

St. Vincent’s St. Clair is located adjacent to a Jefferson State Community College campus, as the Chilton center would be.

Clanton’s City Council voted recently to sell eight acres of land to the hospital board, contingent upon passage of the 1-cent sales tax increase. Reynolds said an agreement in principle has been reached with the owner of an additional five acres at the site.

Kevin Flynn, vice president regional growth with St. Vincent’s, said the next step in the process of bringing a hospital to Chilton County would be a study of what the proposed facility would look like, including the proper mix of inpatient/outpatient service, the scope of services to be offered and physician development.

“We’re here to support and help walk them through the process,” Flynn said about the hospital board.

Once the study was completed, there would be an opportunity for both sides to enter into a more definitive “development agreement,” which would include a price tag for the facility, Flynn said.

Reynolds said one of the hospital board’s most significant hurdles with its effort is the perception tying it to Chilton Medical Center, which was not owned or operated by the county at the time of its closing‚Äîor for many years prior to the closing.

“We’ve got to get away from that whole image that you don’t get very good services in Chilton County,” Reynolds said. “This is a different day. [Health care] can be just as good here as it is at any other semi-rural facility.”