By Randy Garrison
Each time I drive by the former Hartselle Medical Center building, I think about how I will feel when the old building finally comes down.
Work continues to abate asbestos and other materials from the building and grounds before final demolition begins. According to officials with Huntsville Health, the demolition will begin very soon.
Many of you have likely noticed many vehicles parked at the facility but few workers visible. Most of the work has been done on the interior of the building. In the past few days, workers have been working on the old cafeteria later converted to a maintenance facility.
If you have lived in Hartselle for any number of years, you might have many memories of this facility. While I was born there in 1962, I think early memories include visiting family members there, and I vaguely remember the old nursery that was on the east side of the building.
I do remember my maternal grandfather being hospitalized there before he passed in 1970.
Since my mother worked there for more than 40 years, I recall meeting many of the staff. With so many working there in the heyday of the hospital, it was like a large family to many of the folks. In fact, there were a few employees where several generations worked at the hospital over a period of time.
Sadly, many of those folks have passed on.
Medical care in the heyday of the hospital was slightly different than what we experience today.
I can remember when I was in my mid-20s, having abdominal pain and going to see Dr. Duncan. He thought I might have appendicitis and consulted with Dr. Moody about this. Dr. Moody’s recommendation was to do surgery, which would have been done in the hospital.
Dr. Duncan decided to give antibiotics and wait 24 hours before doing any kind of surgery. I am glad he made that suggestion; at 59, I still have my appendix.
Many procedures were done years ago that now would have the patient seeing a specialist for a diagnosis versus his general practitioner. Also, years later, many surgeries are now done as outpatient with no hospital stay required.
In my opinion, when specialties and outpatient surgeries become more normal, the financial viability of the hospital began to go down.
Revenue from an outpatient procedure would be much less than one with a multi-day hospital stay.
I can remember when the second wing was added, and the facility really had a very modern look. The emergency room was very advanced for the time, and a new modern cafeteria was added.
At one point many folks in Hartselle chose the hospital cafeteria for lunch plans.
Like all good things, the day came when the company that owned Hartselle Medical Center felt it was no longer financially feasible to continue operating the facility.
The census count of patients was low, and with a building the size of HMC, the number of staff needed was still be high, even with lower patient numbers. Keeping specialists, such as a surgeon, on staff had become more difficult, too.
I have watched the building deteriorate over the past nine years, and I have been inside several times as well.
While many think the building is still in good condition, a tour of the inside would prove a much different truth. The roof leaks throughout, the basement is flooded, mold and mildew are rampant, and there is evidence of vandalism throughout the facility.
As I have mentioned previously, I would rather see the building demolished than continue to watch it deteriorate and decompose even further than it has.
As with any building that is abandoned, it does not take a long period of time before signs of disrepair and neglect begin to show. I much prefer to see the building taken down than to watch it fall down over time.
After the building is removed, five or so acres will be ready for new life and new development. The facility served Hartselle and surrounding communities well for many years, but time has come for her to rest in peace.