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After 36 years in the books, Smith is retiring from Andalusia Health

Andalusia Health honored Chief Financial Officer Shirley Smith with a retirement party Thursday as she prepares to retire later this month.

Smith has been minding the numbers at the hospital for 36 years.

“I started in March of 1981,” she said. “I was the only accountant.”

In 1983, she was promoted, and she’s been the hospital’s chief financial officer ever since.

“Most days, most hours, I really, really like what I do,” she said. “There are only a few moments that are not so pleasant.”

In those days, the hospital owned three PCs, with limited capabilities.

“I did budgets on paper,” she said.

Technology and government regulations have changed health car the most, she said.

“When you consider what technology has brought to the healthcare – in imaging, and in surgeries, it is amazing,” she said. “Some of the surgeries that would have kept you in the hospital for a week when I started, now you’re in and out in hours.”

Government regulations for Medicare and Medicaid also have had huge impacts on hospitals, she said.

One of the biggest challenges for smaller hospitals is keeping up with available technology.

“Balancing it all is a challenge,” she said. “Everybody’s got a good reason why they need these (capital outlay) items. I I try to think, ‘OK, if that were my mother, husband or friend down the street, they were treating, I’d want to think they have everything need to take care of them.’ ”

If there is a message she could share with the general public, it is this: Most people have no idea how much hospital employees care about the people they treat. She’s experienced it first-hand.

Her son-in-law had a heart attack at 39, and went straight to Andalusia Health. Her daughter was in accident that required her to be airlifted to Birmingham. Among her injuries was a crushed hip.

“I remember asking them, ‘Can’t we just take care of her here?’ ” Smith recalled. “Dr. Metzger told me we could, but they might be able to do more for her in Birmingham. He was right, and I trusted him. But as soon as she recovered to a level that she could come home for care, she did.”

After three decades, her co-workers are like extended family, she said.

“If you think about how many hours a day you spend with the people you work with, they do become family,” she said. “To be able to see some who have grown in their profession and moved into other positions is rewarding.”

Smith said had one child when she joined the hospital. With her colleagues, she’s been through a pregnancy, high school, dating, two weddings and the births of two grandsons.

“When you go through that much of life with someone, they do become family,” she said. “When you watch young moms – or dads – raising their children, you get very, very close. Getting to know all of them was the best part.”

As much as she’s loved it, she said it’s time to refocus. She came to the realization at Christmas that she wanted more time to spend with her family, and she’s got a long list of other things she wants to do.

Smith lives within two miles of her mom, who is 81.

“I need to be able to check on her more,” she said. “I have two grandsons who want to spend time with me, and that won’t always be the case.”

She and her husband, Hayward, have two daughters, Lori Varner and Heather Seay, and two grandsons, Greyson and Jayden Seay.

Smith also teaches a women’s Bible study class at Southside Baptist Church, is active in the Covington Baptist Association, and recently became vice president of the Alabama WMU.

“I really want to get involved there,” she said.

A number of colleagues, friends and family members were on hand for her retirement reception last week. She was presented with an original Roger Powell watercolor of the hospital as it looked when she joined it as a retirement gift.