Starting a hospital from a previously closed hospital is not just a startup. The building originally chartered as Holy Family Hospital in Atlanta in 1964 was later deeded to the Southwest Community organization. In 1975, the hospital was named Southwest Community Hospital, serving a population of over 450,000 people within a 10-mile radius not served by any other hospital. This 125-bed facility later suffered financial difficulties resulting in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2004, and it closed in January 2005.In July 2005, a group of physicians and businessmen bought the 92 acres where the closed hospital stood. Georgia is a certificate-of-need state, and a hospital can’t be closed for more than a year and retain the state certificate for the site without reapplying. The reapplication process can take years. So the owners hired a team to take the aged building, which was stripped of its valuables in bankruptcy and had sat empty without climate control. The building was filled with spider webs and mold, and had a leaking roof. It needed total renovations to get it up to state and CMS standards. The owners faced cash flow problems, disputes among themselves, six chief executive officers or consulting companies in one year and tight timelines. The needed work went beyond cosmetic upgrades: Roof, boiler, generator and air handler repairs were needed, along with new paint, and replacements for the chiller, heating coils and bulk oxygen tanks. There were medical gas line blowouts caused by open lines sitting for almost a year. We needed to develop policy/procedure manuals, hire staff, negotiate contracts for services, create signage and develop work plans. Imagine accomplishing a 112-page itemized checklist before the CON expired. This doesn’t include the simultaneous 33-page list of standards for the state Department of Human Resources survey, which would determine if the building, our policies, procedures and standards met the requirements to open a hospital. Multitasking was an understatement. Long hours were expected and team work was essential. Added to that were cash flow problems as our owners awaited additional funding, resulting in the staff not being paid from October 2005 to Jan. 12, 2006. In December, the employees were placed on furlough. That left only a few volunteer staff members to continue our project checklist. Several owners, our attorney, family members, contractors and a few staff members worked 16 to 20 hours per day to complete the readiness process. On New Year's Day 2006, the board chairman, several owners, our regulatory consultant and the chief operating officer met all day until late at night reviewing our plan, determining what was needed for a Jan. 13 Department of Human Resources survey. The CON would expire on Jan. 17. We had no room for error. The next 12 days were focused, driven toward meeting the necessary standards. Six to eight staff members volunteered to help. On Jan. 12, the employees were asked to return from furlough. Everyone was paid back pay based on a per-payroll schedule. On Jan. 13, the state survey was held. We received no citations, so we started seeing patients in our emergency room and prepared for admissions. Now patients were being seen, but we were out of network for all third-party payers. Immediate plans for CMS certification began, and on Aug. 3, we successfully passed a three-day CMS survey with no citations. Introductory letters to Medicaid, and other third-party payers were sent and we began expanding services, preparing for a survey by the Joint Commission and adding employee benefits. Our efforts continue as we expand services, build our medical staff and maintain regulatory requirements and quality. We are a team committed toward service to our community. The future is bright with a vision for health promotion, prevention and a new hospital.
Laura Hurt was formerly chief operations officer at Legacy Medical Center of Atlanta.