ACH opts out of Infirmary management agreement
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Community Hospital Board and Escambia County Healthcare Authority have exercised a contractual option and will soon end their joint management agreement with Infirmary Health.
According to a July 18 letter issued jointly by ECHA Chair Ruth Harrell and ACHB Chair Nancy Lowery and addressed to hospital staff and physicians, the contract with Infirmary provides for a 365-day transition period in the event of cancellation by either party.
Hospital officials reportedly announced that the transition period will begin next Wednesday, August 1, 2018.
Officials also announced plans to build a new hospital to replace the aging local medical center and said the initial phase of the process would take half a year to complete.
“After much input from consultants, community leaders and others, the decision has been made to start the process for a new healthcare facility for the Atmore community,” the letter reads. “The process will entail determining the size facility needed to be financially sustainable while meeting the healthcare needs of the community, (as well as) the location of the facility, financing options and facility management.”
Unconfirmed reports are that the new medical center will be built on a city lot at Rivercane. Mayor Jim Staff refused to discuss the matter after Monday’s city council meeting, saying he “didn’t know enough about it to talk about it” and referring all questions to Harrell.
After determination of the size facility needed, local hospital officials will begin the process of obtaining a Certificate of Need. Once that has been obtained, construction on the new facility, a project that is expected to take about two years, can begin.
Infirmary began managing and overseeing the 49-bed local hospital three years ago, after members of the city hospital board and county healthcare authority decided to end a 20-year management relationship with Baptist Health.
Infirmary Health is the largest non-governmental, not-for-profit healthcare system in Alabama. Infirmary-owned facilities reportedly treat more than 800,000 patients a year, employ more than 5,000 people and have around 700 physicians on staff.
The Harrell-Lowery letter noted that the two quasi-governmental entities appreciated the services it has received from Infirmary.
“(We are) extremely grateful to Infirmary Health for the management services provided to Atmore Community Hospital over the past three years,” stated the letter, in which it was also noted that the decision to step from beneath the Infirmary umbrella was made “after much review by the board.”
During the year-long transition period, the board and authority will be “vetting best options for the management of our existing facility (during the two-year period while the new facility is being constructed) and of the new facility.”
The board and authority have jointly contracted with a team of healthcare experts who will facilitate the new hospital’s construction and manage the transition from old hospital to new.
That team consists of Gary Wilkinson, Senior Vice President of Johnson Development, who will serve as facility and transition project manager; Steve Alby, Vice President, Healthcare – Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, who will serve as facility design and construction manager; and Colin Luke of Tennessee-based regional U.S. law firm Waller, Lansden, Dorth and Davis, which has offices in Birmingham, who will handle the legal work.
“These individuals are highly respected in the healthcare industry, and we are excited to have them leading our team,” reads the letter to the medical staff, which also points out that “there will be many more decisions that will need to be made over the next several years that will require input from all of you.”
The letter also expressed excitement over the opportunity provided to most of them — and to the community — by the construction of a new hospital.
“We are excited about this opportunity for the Atmore community and for each of you,” it said. “With changes come opportunities, and we look forward to the opportunities that will be available for many of you to grow in your careers.”
Harrell said via a Tuesday morning text message to Atmore News that she has nothing to add to the letter’s contents “at this point.” She promised to “soon” issue a press release providing some of the details of the plan.