Maybe ‘thanks’ would be better

Published 1:48 am Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gabriela Engels admits she has been captivated by Florala for a long time.

A consultant in the medical field, Engels was first invited to Covington County when Dr. Robert Devrnia and his partners took over Florala Memorial Hospital. Even though Dr. Bob took little of her advice, she kept coming back – pro bono – because she wanted the little hospital to succeed.

With a husband and three children in Florida, and other businesses to tend, she could have stayed away. But, she said, there was just something – a feeling she gets when she comes to Covington County – that she just can’t explain.

When she decided to buy a house, a realtor took her to the Gitenstein estate. There it was again, she said. That something that made her want to stay.

She was surprised to learn that the same man built both the hospital and the home she eventually bought. This week, she shared her plans to reopen the healthcare clinic in Florala, and to establish Serendipity Healthy Living Community, a 45-bed inpatient facility for those seeking to overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol.

People aren’t quite sure about Gabi. As Southerners, we are quick to dismiss those who “aren’t from around here.” Others are skeptical of having a treatment facility in their community. She knows that, but we need to get over that, and quickly.

Less than a week ago, concerns about access to healthcare were vocalized at the town council meeting. Florala’s residents were right to be concerned. Now, the landscape has changed a bit.

“We can’t have gambling because of all of the danger, but drug addicts are OK,” was one snarky comment posted to our Facebook page. Bingo once was a real option for Florala, but it was Alabama’s government officials who folded those cards, leaving only Indian gaming operations functioning in the state.

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson pointed out that all communities have people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol but are in denial. Few families are untouched.

I would add that not all who have addiction problems are in legal trouble.

The people who come to Serendipity will come because they have made a decision to get better. They won’t come without financial resources; probably won’t come from the area; and will likely spend money while they’re here.

Would Florala have been better off if the hospital had remained open and Engels had opened her program in just part of it, as she had originally planned? No doubt. That would have made her happiest, too.

But the time, money and effort already invested there shows her commitment and concern. Maybe, just maybe, we should roll out a welcome mat and say ‘thanks.’