Dad always said, 'If you want to belong to something and you want to see it grow and improve, you have to participate,' ” recalls William Tate III.
Tate has certainly acted on his commitment to the community. He joined the board of 104-bed Hancock Medical Center, a public hospital in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in 1987 after serving 18 years as a volunteer on the local planning and zoning commission. He became president of the Hancock board in 2002. Before his retirement in 1997, Tate spent 15 years managing a firm that oversaw site maintenance at nearby Stennis Space Center, NASA's rocket propulsion testing site.
But it was after Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, that Tate's love of Bay St. Louis really showed. Tate, 69, worked nearly every day for months at Hancock Medical Center, even though his own home had been destroyed. He traveled about 40 minutes daily from Picayune, Miss., where he and his family bunked with relatives for about three months, to Bay St. Louis.
He even attended a hospital meeting soon after the storm subsided even though he tripped and fell on his way into the trailer, where the meeting was held. After the meeting, he sought treatment and discovered that he had broken a rib.
Tate and his wife still live in a federal-government trailer, though he hopes to move back into his home near the beach by his 70th birthday on March 30.
“The adrenaline gets very high with something like that, and you don't really pay too much attention to how tired you are,” Tate says.
Indeed, there were a lot decisions for the seven-member hospital board to make. Katrina's 33-foot-plus storm surge had flooded the first floor of Hancock Medical Center, causing more than $20 million in damage.
All of the equipment on the first floor was ruined—including the intensive-care unit, operating room, emergency department, laboratory, diagnostic imaging as well as 79 inpatient beds. The hospital also sustained moderate structural damage.
With such great losses, the board made a number of strategic decisions in late 2005, allowing the hospital to restore services as quickly as possible. Board members:
n Downsized Hancock temporarily to the 25 beds located on the second floor. The 25-bed size allowed Hancock to receive cost-based reimbursement from the CMS as a critical-access hospital—a status it retained from Jan. 1, 2006, through Oct. 31, 2006. As of early February, 36 beds were open with more about to open.
n Hired 10 members of the medical staff in pediatrics, general surgery, internal medicine, OB-GYN and family practice to ensure there were enough physicians in the community to care for patients. The plan also helped fend off outsiders who were trying to recruit members of Hancock's medical staff.
n Continued to pay 200 employees, including caregivers, while the hospital was closed, deploying them to salvage, clean and paint. The hospital had 500 employees before the storm.
In addition to managing the work of the board, Tate was invaluable as a role model and cheerleader, says Hal Leftwich, chief executive officer and administrator. “When a lot of people were questioning whether they were going to stay or not, here is Mr. Tate and he is making rounds in the hospital, talking to employees … building some enthusiasm,” Leftwich says.
Tate knows most employees—and their families—by name, Leftwich noted in the nomination letter for the trustee award.
The hard work paid off. The hospital reopened its ER on Oct. 5, 2005; had 25 inpatient beds in service on Oct. 28, 2005; reopened operating rooms on Dec. 14, 2005; and obstetrics services on Jan. 11, 2006.
Leftwich says Hancock plans to have 47 beds open by the end of February. If patient volume warrants and staff is available, Hancock will have as many as 70 beds in service by this summer.