FLORENCE — The possible impact a new hospital in Florence could have on Helen Keller Hospital and the city of Sheffield was the primary topic of questioning during the ninth day of a contested case hearing on two proposed health-care facilities in Florence.
Helen Keller Hospital Chief Financial Officer Sam Strickland said he made several calculations regarding possible decreased patients and revenue at Helen Keller.
Under his calculations and assumptions, he said Keller would lose $5 million to $6 million in revenue each year if Keller lost 1,000 admissions.
Keller officials have said a new 300-bed hospital proposed for Florence likely would have a negative effect on Keller’s operation.
Strickland reaffirmed Keller’s stance that the planned hospital for Florence should only be a 215-bed facility.
“The larger capacity they have means they have more potential to draw away more patients,” Strickland said. He called Keller a “survivable institution,” that “generally makes a profit.” He said this year the facility did make a profit.
He said Keller owes Huntsville Hospital approximately $3.5 million that was made available through a $5 million line of credit when Keller signed the management agreement with Huntsville Hospital in October 2010.
Sheffield city leaders said, as the city’s top employer, any decline in the hospital’s financial well-being would translate into a drop in the city’s well-being.
Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford said on top of being the town’s largest employer, the hospital is the largest user of city utilities. In many ways, Sanford said, the hospital is the center of the town, particularly for businesses around the Helen Keller campus.
“Sheffield, because of our location, we don’t have the big boxes,” Sanford said. “We don’t have the major chain restaurants. It’s mostly mom-and-pops. They are centered around the hospital, and they are dependent on the employees of the hospital using those businesses and (hospital) visitors using those businesses.”
Sanford was one of a handful of Sheffield and Colbert County leaders to raise concern about the possible negative impact a new hospital in Florence could have.
Sheffield Councilman Steve Stanley said Sheffield is already at a disadvantage to other Shoals’ cities and pulling other resources from the hospital would put the city at a further disadvantage.
He said Sheffield has lost one third of its population since the 1960s, and the population that remains is an aging population with a high poverty level.
“My concern is anything that damages or diminishes the ability of Helen Keller Hospital to continue to operate ... with the same capabilities it has now, is going to damage Sheffield and its citizens,” Stanley said. “If we lost that hospital or even had diminished capacity at that hospital it would be devastating to us.”
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com
On the witness stand
Colbert County Commissioner Rex Burleson testified to the need to protect Helen Keller Hospital from the possible negative impact the proposed project could have on Sheffield and on Keller.
Larry Collum, chairman of the Helen Keller Hospital board, testified to the financial well-being of Helen Keller Hospital and the hospital's relationship with Huntsville Hospital.
Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford testified to the beneficial relationship between Sheffield and Helen Keller Hospital and the impact a decline in Helen Keller could cause on the city.
Al Boyd, radiation therapist at Valley Regional Cancer Center, testified to the relationship between the cancer treatment center and Helen Keller Hospital.
Sam Strickland, CFO, Helen Keller Hospital, testified to the impact the new hospital could have on Helen Keller Hospital.
Sheffield Councilman Steve Stanley testified to the impact a declining hospital could have on Sheffield.
Dr. Dan Spangler, emergency room physician at Helen Keller Hospital, testified to the emergency room operations at Keller and his former relationship with Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Larry Carmichael, pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist, testified about the possible impact the new hospital could have on the hospitals in Colbert County.
Dr. Ken LeMaster, ear, nose and throat specialist in Colbert County, testified to his involvement in the formation and function of a tumor board at Helen Keller Hospital. The tumor board is a meeting of various doctors to discuss new or interesting cancer cases.
Bob Robicheaux, chairman, school of business, University of Alabama, Birmingham. Robicheaux will be testifying as an expert witness for Helen Keller Hospital. He will only give his direct testimony Friday. He will be cross examined Monday. Testimony begins at 9 a.m. and is expected to last until lunchtime.
Quote of the day
"Sheffield, because of our location, we don't have the big boxes. We don't have the major chain restaurants. It's mostly mom-and-pops. They are centered around the hospital, and they are dependent on the employees of the hospital using those businesses and (hospital) visitors using those businesses."
Shefield Mayor Ian Sanford