Red Bay Hospital faces challenges head-on with advancements, services to create a stronger future
Red Bay Hospital was built on a commitment from the community in the way of a special sales tax and a personal guarantee from Dr. Z.L. Weatherford to the State of Alabama.
Fifty years later the community’s commitment is still needed – not in the way of taxes or guarantees, but in the way of utilization and support.
Red Bay Hospital is not alone in the United States in battling against the pressures of ever-receding reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid. It’s a fact of life for all hospitals and clinics across the nation. Despite these obstacles, there’s reason for hope. First and foremost, Red Bay Hospital is in a community that has proved time and again it doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “quit.”
It also helps that Red Bay Hospital and it’s parent organization, Helen Keller Hospital and the Huntsville Hospital Health System, have been forward-thinking in shifting services with medical trends and working to provide services to the community that will help maintain and grow the organization for the future.
That’s the message from Red Bay Hospital Administrator Glen Jones, and he believes the best pathway forward for Red Bay Hospital is to offer the best healthcare available to overcome the challenges of reduced reimbursements.
“Declining reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross, and other insurance payers is perhaps the biggest challenge facing us today and for the foreseeable future,” Jones said. “Alabama has some of the lowest reimbursements of any state in the nation. Alabama is also one of the states that have not expanded the Medicaid program to date. And, even though reimbursement has continued to decline over the past several years, wages, supplies, and medication costs have continued to rise.”
There is plenty of reason to be positive about the future. One of the challenges Jones said the hospital recognized was maintaining and growing utilization to help overcome reductions in reimbursements. In 2016, Red Bay Hospital saw 409 inpatient admissions, 11,014 outpatient visits and 4,429 emergency visits. In a trade market of approximately 18,000 residents there should be room for growth, and that’s another area where hospital leaders are positioning the organization to prepare for the future.
Strength in numbers
The hospital’s purchase by Helen Keller Hospital in 1991 saved Red Bay Hospital from distress at that time. Joining with Keller also provided Red Bay Hospital with access to additional services that likely wouldn’t have been available in a small town in rural Alabama. Then, in 2014, Keller entered into a long-term lease agreement with the Huntsville Hospital Health System, providing further strength and flexibility to Red Bay Hospital in areas such as purchasing, where a larger system has more negotiating power than a small, independent hospital. It has also allowed for improved continuity of treatment when patients stay within the system.
The proof of this can be found by looking at the investment Red Bay Hospital has made since then to improve patient care and service offerings.
According to Jones, since July 2015 more than $350,000 of new equipment and investment has been added to Red Bay Hospital in an effort to continue to provide excellent healthcare. Some of these improvements include:
- Three new ambulances and equipment purchased for Franklin County EMS Service
- Digital Mammography equipment
- Lab Chemistry Analyzer & I-stat machine
- Computerized Ultrasound
- Emergency Department Clinical Monitoring System
- Pxyis Medication Administration machines (2 each)
- Cardio Exercise Equipment for the WellCare Center (five each)
- Patient Lifts (two each), and more.
The Huntsville Hospital system also operates MedExpress Red Bay and MedExpress Littleville, two rural health clinics with a physician, nurse practitioners and physician collaborators. This is in following with the trend toward more outpatient-focused services.
It’s moves like these that Jones says will allow Red Bay Hospital to continue to provide the services area residents need, and that’s a message he wants to make sure is understood in the community.
One of the examples of the hospital working to provide services here to keep people from having to travel long distances to seek treatment is in the hospital’s Infusion Clinic. If patients are going outside the area for IV therapy for days or weeks, they can ask if the service can be done by the Red Bay Hospital Infusion Clinic.
Jones also urged residents to utilize the hospital’s outpatient lab, x-ray, CT and therapy services, Swing Bed Program and Emergency Department, and to support local physicians and nurse practitioners whenever possible. The hospital also brings in specialty physicians and surgeons for services such as surgical consultations and OBGYN services on a part-time outpatient clinic basis.
All these efforts by the hospital to prepare to face the future by offering services needed today with the latest equipment are costly to pursue, but they are in line with what Jones said is the organization’s prime focus.
“Our patients and the community are our highest priority,” Jones said. “We are focusing on national, state, and system benchmarks to measure ourselves with regards to quality, clinical outcomes, and customer satisfaction in order to provide quality healthcare to our area.
“We urge residents to give us a chance to meet their medical needs and expectations. We are here to serve the community,” he said. “We are friends caring for friends. Our community needs Red Bay Hospital, and Red Bay Hospital needs the community.”