ARH plans rehab wing

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

To measure the quality of life of a community, many would use standards that include parks and recreation, education, local government, and business and industry. But, there's a very important factor that some people may overlook - especially in the Covington County area - the quality of health care provided.

Andalusia Regional Hospital, long a provider of top-notch health care in Covington County, is about to add another quality of life-improving service to its list of medical specialties - inpatient rehabilitation services.

"This is a need we identified about 2 years ago," said ARH Chief Executive Officer Barry Keel. "We were discussing some of the needs of the community with our board of directors, advisory board and community leaders. We all recognized the need for this type of service in this area."

That service can now be provided, thanks to ARH receiving an Emergency Certificate of Need from the State Health Planning and Development Agency, to construct and operate a new patient wing with 12 inpatient rehabilitation beds. Andalusia Regional could receive its final Certificate of Need during the November 19 meeting of the Need Review Board.

It was during the initial meeting that Keel and others realized how big the need for a rehab facility was in this area.

"We began to look, and saw the barriers that were in place for residents in this area," Keel said. "We found that access was limited to Dothan, Pensacola, Montgomery and other areas. It became more evident the need for this type of facility when a patient refused to go to a rehabilitation facility because their spouse was unable to physically take them.

"The average stay in rehab is between 13 and 20 days, and if a patient refuses to go because of the travel inconvenience, it could seriously diminish the quality of care that patient needs," he continued. "We began to look at what it would take to eliminate that inconvenience."

Andalusia Regional presented its proposal to the state in October 2002, but there wasn't a quorum present of the board to get a vote.

"With the election approaching, and the subsequent administration turnover, it was August of this year before we could go back and receive unanimous approval. The board saw the need in this area."

Covington County, located in Region 7 of the state, had only one option for rehab services in its local area - Dothan.

"That facility is in this area, but it isn't necessarily accessible to the residents in this area because of the drive," Keel said. "It's very important to note that Covington County has the highest percentage of elderly patients, proportionate to population in Alabama. That's why it is so important for us to be able to offer a facility like this. Ninety percent of all rehabilitation patients are elderly, and a facility that is close by will help them tremendously."

With the new facility, which Keel said is planned to break ground later this month and eventually open by April 1, 2004, ARH will be adding at least 12 new jobs to the economy, along with possibly new medical specialties - neurology and physical medicine.

"We are looking at 12 new full time positions, and a full time or part time neurologist and physical medicine physician," he said. "That would be new specialties we've identified as needed in this area, and we've already begun the recruitment process for those positions. Rehabilitation deals so closely with those disciplines, and having them here will be a great asset to the community."

When developing their plan for the rehabilitation wing, Keel said he had to compliment the state for recognizing the need in this area.

"The support we've received from the state on this issue Š for hearing our presentation and making sure we provided all the information they needed and realizing we were truly trying to improve the health care in Alabama Š that's what we're all (medical providers) looking for," Keel said.

"We continue to have tremendous support from the community, have the best group of physicians and staff in south Alabama," he continued. "I firmly believe that if we continue to do the right things to continue to improve health care in Covington County, we will continue to grow and will become the regional provider of health care in south central Alabama."