A sculpture in honor of the four founders of St. Vincent’s Health System sets outside St. Vincent’s Chilton. The four women were Sisters from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. (JOYANNA LOVE/ ADVERTISER)

Story and photos by JOYANNA LOVE

St. Vincent’s Chilton opened with much fanfare in October 2016.

Now as the facility reaches its one year mark, the county residents have enjoyed seeing the hospital become a pillar in the community. The project is viewed as an important step for the county and as a catalyst for future growth.

“We are so pleased to have a hospital again and especially one the caliber of St. Vincent’s,” director Janice Hull of the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce said. “When we were left with no emergency room, I understand that our industries were in danger. I am so thankful that we retained them.”

Chilton County Commission Chairperson Allen Caton said an industry in Chilton County was going to have a significant increase in costs for worker’s compensation coverage because the county did not have a hospital. The construction of St. Vincent’s Chilton “helped them keep their worker’s comp rates down,” Caton said.

In addition to creating the equivalent of 151 full-time jobs, the hospital has provided the opportunity for many in the medical field who had been working out of the county an opportunity to work closer to home.

“Between the hospital and the nursing and medical courses at Jeff State, we are encouraged about our work force,” Hull said. “In addition to more than 100 jobs, the hospital has been responsible for the addition other medical offices and support services.  It’s a wonderful addition, and I’m so glad that more of our people can work in Chilton County.”

Other medical related companies, such as Clanton Pediatric Associates and The Scrub Shop, have opened in Clanton in the past year. Other local doctors have upgraded their offices and equipment to better serve patients. Specialists have also located in the hospital’s outpatient services to provide Chilton County patients care closer to home.

“I think the impact has been great,” Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver said. “There are a lot of people using the hospital and saving trips (out of town).”

He said people can also have peace of mind knowing there is a hospital nearby if something happens.

“It has been a long-time dream of Chilton County to have a state-of-the-art Health care facility/ hospital and with St. Vincent’s driving that bus to get us here, it has just been wonderful,” Jason Calhoun, Chilton County Chamber president, said.

Calhoun lives close to the hospital and said he knows it is being used by the number of emergency vehicle sirens he hears.

“It is kind of reassuring to know that they are not going to get on the Interstate north or south, but they are just going down the road,” Calhoun said. “It makes a quicker response time for whoever is in the back of that ambulance.”

Industrial Development Board Member Van Forrester said the hospital will be a catalyst for further growth.

“We knew it was something that the area needed for us to grow,” Forrester said. “There was going to be no industrial growth or growth for the county if we didn’t have a hospital.”

Forrester said it is good to see St. Vincent’s Chilton serving the community at a higher rate than even the organization had projected.

“When our industrial board goes out to recruit different businesses to come out to the county, two major things that people look at are our school system and health care,” Caton said. “We are able to offer the best of both. We have a great school system, and now we have a great health care system.”

Since the construction of the hospital, there has been some interest from businesses requesting information about the county from the state.

“We would not have even been thought of if there were not a medical facility,” Forrester said.

Forrester said some of his family members have needed services offered at St. Vincent’s Chilton.

“Their diagnostics center is great,” Forrester said. “It’s great knowing that it is there if you have a need.”

Driver said he is now able to see his doctors at St. Vincent’s Chilton, rather than having to drive to Prattville or Alabaster. Caton said he recently had a shoulder MRI there. Calhoun said some of his family members have been patients at St. Vincent’s Chilton.

“It was a blessing that they did not have to travel so far with the amount of pain that they were in,” Calhoun said.

Community support was strong for building St. Vincent’s Chilton with 79.6 percent of referendum voters casting a ballot in favor of a one-cent sales tax increase to help fund construction. Caton said he knew support for the project would be strong because people had filled the commission meeting room, hallway and stairs during County Commission meetings asking for a hospital in Chilton County.

Those serving on the Health Care Authority worked to gauge support for the hospital before the vote, applied for a certificate of need and borrowed the money through bonds for the project. This debt will be paid off by the sales tax increase approved for the project.

“In addition to all that, we had to get an agreement with someone to run the business of the hospital … we were able to start being involved with St. Vincent’s,” Sibley Reynolds, secretary and spokesperson for the Health Care Authority, said.

The partnership between the Authority and St. Vincent’s continues as the Authority owns the building and established a 30-lease agreement with them.

Once the hospital opened, service numbers began to exceed projections.

“We started to find out there was more of a need than we knew of,” Reynolds said.

He said the numbers of those who had been served in the first year “were very impressive.”

Reynolds said community support for St. Vincent’s Chilton needs to continue.

“What we really need is, what the Health Care Authority would like to see and I am sure St. Vincent’s like to see is for the people of Chilton county to support the doctors that support the local hospitals,” Reynolds said. “Meaning, if you have to go to the hospital and that service is available here, go here, don’t go somewhere else … use the hospital that you are already paying for.”

Additional medical facilities for the hospital campus are in the discussion and research phases. Reynolds said a medical office building, assisted living and nursing home options have been discussed.

The medical office building would be connected to the outpatient services wing of St. Vincent’s Chilton.

“Our plan is to put a two-story building right there, approximately 20,000 to 22,000 square feet and there will be a door going from that building directly into the hospital,” Reynolds said.

Offices in the building would be leased to specific doctors and specialty practices.

Another building providing needing different levels of skilled home care is also being discussed. Reynolds said this could include independent living apartments, assisted living and nursing home facilities in one building or connected buildings.

The Health Care Authority is also researching if a Veterans Affairs assisted living or nursing home would be an option.