Let’s start fresh with our hospital

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Over the past seven years, I’ve written a lot of columns. On a number of occasions &045;&045; at least once in Demopolis &045;&045; I’ve written about perception and how it can make nut cases of us all.

This week, I figured something out during deep-digging hours on the telephone working through the now-announced change at Bryan Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

Most people make perceptions about certain situations based on the unknown. In other words, we form opinions about how things will play out even though we don’t know the first thing about the circumstances surrounding the situation.

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If that mangled philosophical speak doesn’t make any sense, let’s try to make things a bit clearer.

Change has happened at our hospital. From what I’ve heard, there are some who believe the forced resignation of Charles Nabors was a bad thing. Others, I’ve heard, believe having a new CEO at the hospital will be a positive thing for our community.

What everyone &045;&045; even members of the hospital board &045;&045; will admit is that we don’t know what happens next. Most people don’t know Mike Marshall (the new interim CEO), and we certainly don’t know what changes Marshall will make at our hospital.

Here’s what we do know: People care deeply about having effective healthcare in Marengo County. Many are disgusted at driving to Tuscaloosa, Meridian or Selma to get emergency care when an emergency room is sitting on U.S. Highway 80 right in the middle of Demopolis.

For a few minutes, I’d like to help ease some of the fear that might accompany the unknown at our hospital.

More than two years ago, I worked in Selma where we had two hospitals. Both of those hospitals operated at a deficit, and both had serious customer service issues. A company out of Nashville swooped into Selma and purchased both hospitals, combined the two into one and has worked hard to provide better care to patients in that area. (Whether or not the hospital has been a success should be left to the people who use that hospital.)

Through the transition in Selma, I worked closely with the new owners of the hospital. I felt &045;&045; as the community newspaper &045;&045; it was our job to advocate positive changes. I also firmly believe that having adequate healthcare in a community such as ours is one of the most important aspects to economic growth.

On Friday, I spent a while on the phone with the new CEO of the Demopolis hospital. I asked the tough questions, and I threw out the softballs. But I’ve got to admit that Mike Marshall said all the right things, and he apparently knows what needs to be done at our hospital.

Nearly a year ago, when I moved to Demopolis, I listened to the talk that came out of Bryan Whitfield. I had lunch with the former CEO and was inundated with all the negative figures concerning Medicare and indigent care. I also must admit that I was sold on what Charles Nabors had to say.

After that initial story, I decided to sit back and watch the circumstances surrounding our hospital. I listened to the repeated warnings about indigent care and how it needed to be paid. I watched the lawsuits against the Marengo County Commission and the federal government. I even listened when people talked about the poor financial state of Bryan Whitfield.

Here’s what I rarely heard: How are the people in Marengo and surrounding counties affected. What are we doing to get past the reimbursement issues? How are we going to make this hospital work based on what we currently have?

During my talk with Marshall, I heard something very refreshing. Marshall made it clear that Medicare and indigent care are issues that have to be addressed.

Exactly. Are we really going to get anything out of a lawsuit against the federal government? Are we helping make healthcare better by robbing Peter to pay Paul?

What matters in healthcare is exactly what Marshall said.

If I break my leg tomorrow and need emergency care, I don’t give a hoot about the Medicare reimbursement problems in Washington, D.C. Just give me a cast and some crutches and get me out of the emergency room.

Mike Marshall has a lot to prove when he takes over our hospital. He also has a wealth of opportunity to get people back into his hospital. He can make a difference in our town and can change the perception people have about healthcare in Marengo County.

In order to do that, he must spend an inordinate amount of time getting to know the people who walk into the emergency room. He also must resolve to tell people about the benefits &045;&045; not just the problems &045;&045; of healthcare in our community.