Despite challenges, CEO sees bright future for BWWMH

Published 2:15 pm Friday, January 2, 2015

Rumors have been swirling about the demise of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

In recent months, those rumors have intensified following the closure of the hospital’s labor and delivery unit in February, which resulted in 30 full-time employees being laid off. Ten more full-time employees from throughout the hospital were let go within the last two months in the most recent round of layoffs.

Acting CEO Arthur Evans attempted to put the rumors of the hospital’s demise to rest earlier this week.

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“We’ve got a board that’s committed to keeping this a viable organization,” said Evans, who took over as the hospital’s chief official in October following Mike Marshall’s resignation. “I’m committed to keeping this a viable organization. I live here. I don’t plan to move. I’m going to retire here. I’m going to build my retirement home here, so I’m committed to staying here and I want to have, and have as much interest personally as I do professionally, in having a viable healthcare system available for me and my family as much as for every other family in Demopolis. That commitment starts with the board, and down through me to the staff. We’ve got a great staff that is committed and loves healthcare, and it’s obvious because they stuck around through some very challenging times over the last seven or eight years. Their loyalty to this institution is amazing, and it’s their commitment and their dedication that makes this institution what it is. We feel good about the future of Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.”

While Evans doesn’t foresee BWWMH closing, thanks in part to “difficult decisions” such as closing the hospital’s labor and delivery unit, he does understand the community’s concern.

“Word is getting out that more and more hospitals are closing, and some aren’t all that far away from us,” he said. “I think that adds to the worry.”

In the past three years, 10 hospitals in rural Alabama have closed their doors. Nationwide, 22 hospitals in rural communities have closed within the last year, according to the National Rural Health Association.

Evans, who has more than 35 years experience at BWWMH said the hospital’s board and administration has taken steps to ensure Demopolis’ hospital doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

“We’re looking at diversifying, and obviously hospitals like ours in rural areas are looking at a number of things to bring in additional revenue that may not meet the core needs of the community, but it does assist the community in helping maintain a viable organization that can provide other healthcare opportunities for the community that meet or exceed their expectations.”

Evans said hospital administrators have filed a certificate of need with the State Health Planning and Development Agency for 10 adult psychiatric beds.

The hospital already has a 10-bed geriatric behavioral health program, as well as a substance abuse treatment program run by Self-Recovery.

“Quite frankly that’s one of the areas that has been a plus for us from a financial standpoint,” Evans said. “If it were not for programs such as the geriatric behavioral health program and our Self-Recovery program, there would have been other significant cuts that we would have had to make. Those programs have afforded us an opportunity to continue to provide medical-surgical and intensive care beds that we have available, as well as all the other outpatient services we provide.”

Evans did admit that the hospital is facing a number of challenges, including generating the necessary cash flow at times to meet its financial obligations.

“The challenges are there,” he said. “We’re not any different than anyone else. We’re struggling at times from a cash flow standpoint to meet those needs. We know what we owe and whom we owe, and we will pay our bills, but we just struggle from time to time with the monies that come in trying to keep up with everything else. Those are some problems that didn’t happen overnight and it’s going to take some time to correct them, and we’re committed to correcting those problems. That’s the challenge I have. That’s the challenge the board has, and we’re working on solutions to make that go away.”

One such solution is the creation of the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority Foundation, which will support the needs of the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority.

According to Evans, the foundation, which was created in April, will help raise funds for the hospital to assist with things such as the purchase of equipment or even remodeling and construction.

“It’s in the early stages, but just as the Demopolis City Schools Foundation is important to the city school system, this foundation is going to be pivotal going forward,” Evans said.

“We’re excited about the foundation and the direction that’s going, and with some of the things we’ve done internally, we feel like the future is looking very good for Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.”

Evans did say the community must play an active role in keeping the hospital’s doors open for years to come.

“You hear shop at home all the time,” he said.

“We’re no different. We need people in the community to take advantage of the services we offer here rather than going to Tuscaloosa or Birmingham. Demopolis has always been a community that has shown it’s support, whether it’s for the school system or the hospital. I feel certain that’s going to continue. That support is vital for our hospital.”