Lack of hospital affects county in ways both obvious, obscure

Chilton Medical Center has been closed to patients for about six months, and the consequences for Chilton County having no hospital have been serious and numerous.

Officials have turned their focus away from re-opening the hospital and toward constructing a new one. Without any unforeseen developments, and based on estimates by those close to the situation, Chilton County won’t have an operational hospital for at least another two and a half years.

An obvious consequence of the county’s lack of a hospital is that residents must drive or be transported outside of the county to receive emergency care. Hospitals in Alabaster and Prattville are at least 30 minutes away for many residents.

Dianne Patterson is the office manager for Dr. Jon Binkerd, who works out of the Chilton Specialty Clinic adjacent to CMC. Patterson said she has seen several people in need of emergency care drive to the hospital only to find locked doors.

“A lady came in this week, an elderly lady that couldn’t get to [Shelby Baptist Health Center in Alabaster],” Patterson said. “There’s still people that come by all the time. They’re thinking there’s somebody there that can help them.”

Patterson said Binkerd has been able to treat some of the people that have come to CMC in need of care, such as a young construction worker who had been struck in the eye with a nail.

Patterson said it’s frustrating to know there is adequate equipment and medicine still in the facility to treat patients.

“There’s stuff that can help these people.”

Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver said he hears from many residents, especially older ones, that are “scared” to be without a hospital in the county.

“It’s just sad that we don’t have somewhere to go,” Driver said. “You’ve got to take off 35 miles just for minor stuff.

“We just need something, a place where we can feel like we’re not just sitting out here alone.”

Impeded economic development

Fred Crawford, Chilton County industrial development coordinator, said businesses must consider employees’ access to emergency health care.

“At some point, the lack of an emergency room is going to have a detrimental effect on you recruiting business and industry, and it could cause industry to review their status in the county,” Crawford said.

Crawford said he doesn’t think Chilton County’s economic development has been hurt yet because of the Chilton County Hospital Board’s efforts to make emergency care available again.

“Without a plan, it would hurt us,” Crawford said.

The county has already been hurt by the loss of about 150 jobs. What once was the largest employer in the third largest industry (health care) in the county now has only a handful of employees devoted to collections and maintaining medical records.

Crawford said he thinks many former CMC employees now at other jobs would return to work in Chilton County if the opportunity arose.

“When we open the hospital again, most of those will be applying for jobs to keep from traveling,” he said.

Drain on government resources

Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell said there are usually at least four officers on patrol in the city at any given time.

In the event of an assault or any other crime that requires medical attention, the responding officer, plus an investigator in most cases, must travel with the victim and/or suspect to hospital for medical care. Each trip usually takes at least a couple of hours.

“If you take one out of the city limits, you’re cutting your staffing significantly,” Stilwell said.

Stilwell said he can recall a time recently when three of the four patrol officers on duty were outside the county at hospitals.

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