By Alton Mitchell
Efficient access to healthcare in rural communities across the nation continues to be a problem. Smaller communities are losing hospitals due to various reasons. The closure of these healthcare facilities is something that could have impacted Chambers County, but thanks to a move in Chambers County the local hospital is safe and having a significant impact on the community.
Greg Nichols, administrator for East Alabama Medical Center- Lanier took time out to discuss some of the impacts the hospital has on the local community as he released the 2017 fiscal report for the hospital. The impact of the number of patients seen and impacts of the hospital are significant according to the data released. According to Nichols the success of the hospital is due to the great community support received from residents in Chambers County.
According to Nichols in 2017 there were 1,577 inpatient admissions to the hospital in Valley. The number of patients seen in the emergency room department was even greater where more than 15,000 patients were treated over the period. There were 20,000 individuals treated at the facility in 2017 and 21,000 procedures in the x-ray department. Those procedures included more than 2200 mammograms completed by the hospital.
Nichols said that these numbers do signify the importance of a community hospital such as EAMC: Lanier. The hospital which employees approximately 477 employees has grown from 469 when it affiliated with East Alabama Medical Center in 2014. Nichols also spoke of the investments being made into employees at the hospital and the efforts to grow the employee knowledge at the facility.
The survival of East Alabama Medical Center Lanier is key thanks to funds received from the Ad Valorem tax in Chambers County. The hospital has received more than $3.5 million from the Ad Valorem tax. In addition to those funds the hospital has invested a total of $13 million back into the system. This has included the updating of medical records to an electronic system and $1.5 million into equipment for the hospital.
EAMC: Lanier is now looking towards the future on the heels of recently completing a nursing home and kitchen renovation, a project that costed $5 million to complete. One of the next projects for the facility is a renovation and facility update for the Emergency Room. There is no date set for when that project should begin.
Despite its accomplishments, EAMC-Lanier is facing some difficulties that the hospital is looking to overcome. These include a lack of patients paying their bills to the hospital and a lack of local physicians. The hospital is also continuing to work at maintaining good employees. “We are working to create an environment where this is a great place to live in a community that cares for each other,” said Nichols.
The lack of quality healthcare and the depletion of rural hospitals has hit close to home. In 2011, Randolph Medical Center in Roanoke abruptly closed its doors after being unable to find a buyer for the facility. Over the past several years there have been five hospitals that have closed their doors in rural Alabama. The cause for the closure has been attributed to older, poorer, and sicker patient populations in rural portions of the country.
A December 2017 report in Bloomberg said that 44 percent of rural hospitals operate at a financial loss. County Commissioner Charlie Williams expressed his gratefulness at EAMC: Lanier presence in the county during the County Commission meeting. “We are grateful we still have a hospital in Chambers County,” said Williams.