For three years, Chilton County has been without a hospital, which at times, has been challenging for the community. For instance, last year, when a school bus crashed in Clanton, the children had to be driven 30 miles away to Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster. Fortunately, none of the injuries were life-threatening.
That all changes with a new $40 million hospital constructed in Clanton off Highway 145 and Interstate 65, right up the road from the defunct Chilton Medical Center. "When the state health officer pulled their license, we looked into buying that building," says Sibley Reynolds, secretary of the Chilton County Health Care Authority. But the renovation costs were expected to hit $11 million, so they decided against it.
Instead, the citizen-driven task force brokered a deal with St. Vincent's Healthcare System to operate a new 30-bed hospital. "We are excited to be a part of bringing a hospital back to Chilton County," says Neeysa Biddle, Senior Vice President of Ascension Health and President and CEO of St. Vincent's Health System. "This agreement represents a true partnership with the community. We are thankful to be expanding our presence in Alabama, as we continue to provide outstanding care to more patients throughout the state."
The facility, however, will be owned and built with the help of county monies. That funding derives from a temporary one-cent sales tax increase passed in a 2014 referendum. The tax stays in effect only long enough to pay for the construction of the hospital and to build up a fund for the maintenance of the property. Then the tax expires.
St. Vincent's has some experience with public/private partnerships. The 40-bed St. Vincent's St. Clair Hospital in Pell City was also built with public funds. Opened in December 2011, that $30 million hospital stands on 165-acres owned the St. Clair Economic Development Council. The successful project was a partnership between the St. Clair County Health Care Authority, St. Clair County Commission, Pell City, the St. Clair County Economic Development Council, and St. Vincent's Health System.
For Chilton County, the hospital creates more than 140 jobs and $13 million a year in payroll. "As a part of Ascension, we bring the resources of the nation's largest not-for-profit and largest Catholic health system to Chilton County," Biddle says. "St. Vincent's Chilton not only has St. Vincent's Health System as a partner, but all of Ascension - 141 hospitals, 160,000 associates and many physicians and others."
Called St. Vincent's Chilton, the technologies incorporated in the facility make it one of the most energy-efficient hospitals in the country. "Members of the Chilton County Health Care Authority had a vision for making sure St. Vincent's Chilton was designed in such a way that taxpayers' funds would be spent wisely," says Suzannah Campbell, the hospital's administrator. High-tech elements within the facility will conserve energy, limit long-term maintenance costs, and incorporate new temperature and air-quality technologies that also address infection control. "Generations of residents will benefit from that vision, as the technology in this facility lowers operating costs and the building's environmental impact. St. Vincent's is privileged to work with area leaders demonstrating such stewardship."
A full-service hospital, St. Vincent's Chilton will provide 24/7 emergency services with seven emergency rooms and two trauma bays, along with quality surgical services from complex to minimally invasive surgeries. Orthopedic surgeons will also be available to perform same-day surgeries, including laparoscopic joint repairs and carpal tunnel fixes.
The diagnostics capabilities include an MRI scanner, a 64-slice CT scanner to view three-dimensional images of the body, nuclear medicine, digital mammography, ultrasound, x-rays and fluoroscopy. Their new lab will end the delay in sending blood or other testing outside of the area for analysis.
Specialties will cover the expected full spectrum of typical needs from cardiac rehabilitation, respiratory care, and neurological services to the full array of therapy, including physical, occupational, and speech. A few of the more focused specialists will also be on-site, such as sports medicine, arthritis treatment, and pain management. Gastroenterologists will offer colonoscopies. Podiatrists will provide foot diagnostics and treatments, and ophthalmologists will address cataracts and other vision issues.
St. Vincent's is contracted to operate the new hospital for the next 29 years. Already, plans are being finalized for a medical office building to be built adjacent to St. Vincent's Chilton. It is slated to open in 2017.