Lack of hospital causes concern
We travel to Birmingham on a regular basis. During the past year, we have observed a steady procession of ambulances speeding north out of Chilton County on Interstate 65. They usually exit in Alabaster, heading toward Shelby Memorial Hospital. Recently, a good friend required medical assistance in Clanton. Paramedics were called and the decision was made to allow the family to transport him to a Birmingham area hospital for emergency services. The paramedics had responded to six calls just that morning. Unfortunately, this is an everyday occurrence in Chilton County, since our hospital collapsed in 2012, with little warning or notice to the public.
But, the response to this crisis by our local political leaders is inconsistent at best, and simply inadequate in meeting the basic needs of our citizens.
1) Supposedly, there are plans for a “medical mall” at the CHC site, but only limited information concerning this effort is forthcoming. The acute care component appears to be a “doc-in-the-box” extended hours office which could handle minor emergencies. What is needed is a free standing Emergency Room, until such time that a new hospital is built. This will require a Certificate of Need and a true collaboration from elected officials, the new Health Care Authority, physicians/nurses, the Chamber of Commerce, church leaders and a collective voice of our citizens. People are suffering and dying on the way to a hospital in another county.
2) Our Hospital Board requested and received support from our County Commission for an ad valorem tax to fund a new hospital. However, Sen. Ward and Rep. Wallace disagreed and so local leaders reversed their decision in favor of a 1-cent sales tax. Our legislators stated this was more equitable. This is not true. A sales tax is regressive and always burdens the “least among us.”
3) St. Vincent’s Hospital is negotiating with local officials to operate our new hospital. We saw a picture of a hospital in Pell City in this newspaper, but no information on the size or scope of our proposed facility is available. (This determines cost and length of time for the tax, so it is important) How and when will the public be informed on the size and cost of the hospital?
4) Our legislators tell us the tax will end at some time in the future. They also said that about the sales tax that funded our jail. That tax was resurrected and is with us this day.
5) Other communities across the country have experienced gaps in their health systems and have been proactive and creative in obtaining funding through the Department of Health and Human Services. Racine, Wis.; Cleveland, Ohio; Fresno County, Calif. and here in Alabama, Tillman’s Corner, received $1.3 million to provide funding for their Community Health Clinic. Surely our Congressman Bachus, before he retires, could assist Chilton County in at least exploring this possibility of a federal/local partnership. Sen. Ward has a long-standing relationship with Congressman Bachus and could be helpful in this effort.
For the immediate future, this grim parade of ambulances will continue. Chilton County has a third world health system that is dangerous to us all. To put it bluntly, it is neither healthy nor a system. We can and should do better.
Ralph Hendrix and the Rev. William King, Rector at Trinity Episcopal Church