Hartselle Health Park planning to add emergency room
By Bayne Hughes
For the Enquirer
The city may no longer have a hospital, but plans are underway for an emergency room at Hartselle Health Park.
The Cullman Regional health system plans to establish north Alabama’s first freestanding emergency department, and the eighth in the state, at the U.S. 31 health park, which already has an urgent care facility. The company initiated the approval process by submitting a letter of intent on Monday to Alabama’s Certificate of Need Board.
The announcement comes less than a month after Cullman Regional spokeswoman Jennifer Malone said the company recently acquired 9 acres at 1790 U.S. 31 N. — directly across from the existing health park — as the site for a planned medical office.
Malone said after a news conference Tuesday that Cullman Regional plans to remodel the urgent care building at Hartselle Health Park so it can add the emergency department.
Once complete, the Hartselle Health Park Emergency Department will be about 12,500 square feet. Total construction cost is estimated to be between $6 million and $8.5 million, Malone said.
The Hartselle Medical Center was closed by Capella Healthcare in 2012 prior to being sold to the Huntsville Hospital Health System. The building was demolished last year, so now the city doesn’t have a hospital or an ER.
Dr. Bill Smith, Cullman Regional chief medical officer, said a freestanding ER is no different from a hospital ER. It will give the health park the ability to provide services that are unavailable with an urgent-care operation.
“It’s just like if you took the ER at Cullman Regional and moved it to Hartselle,” Smith said. “We will treat all of the conditions that are treated in the emergency department, like heart attacks and strokes. Many times, medicines are given to patients to solve blood clots immediately.”
Smith said the new, “fully functioning” emergency room will have diagnostic machines like CAT scans and MRIs.
If a person comes into the emergency room and requires a hospital stay, Smith said the person will be treated, stabilized and transferred to an area hospital. An ambulance bay and a heliport for a medical helicopter to land will be added.
“We will have the ability to move the patient to a hospital to get the care that’s needed,” Smith said.
Smith said it could take a year or longer for Hartselle Health Park to get its certificate of need.
Malone said the construction work won’t begin until a certificate of need is awarded, so it will be at least 18 months before the new department opens.
Falkville resident Greg Colee could have used the emergency room last week. He stopped with his wife on Oct. 26 at Mister Car Wash less than a block away from the Hartselle Health Park urgent care.
“I started having symptoms but we stopped to wash our car — I’m kind of hard-headed like that,” Colee said Tuesday. “My jacket was soaked with sweat. I told my wife, ‘You’re going to have to carry me somewhere.’”
Colee, a Falkville resident who is retired from General Motors, said they talked about going to an ER, but he estimated Cullman Regional and Decatur Morgan were 20 to 30 minutes away.
“I told her, ‘If I go to the emergency room, I’ll be dead before I get there,’” Colee said.
So, the couple went across the highway to Hartselle Health Park’s urgent care.
“Every staff member was probably working on me,” Colee said. “They gave me glycerin, IVs, aspirin. I was already starting to turn blue.”
A staff member called Morgan 911, and Lifeguard Ambulance Service and the Hartselle Fire Department responded to the health park. Dr. Brandon Evans, director of physician services, said Colee “was in a very critical situation” and he and his staff went to work trying to stabilize the patient so he could be transported to Huntsville Hospital for a higher level of care.
“If it hadn’t been for Hartselle Health Park staff, I don’t think Greg would have made it,” said Colee’s wife, Sonya Colee. “When they left, Brandon told me he was worried. He said he had done all he could do and Greg was stable.”
Greg Colee said his life “was still in jeopardy” when he left the Hartselle center, and he believes an emergency room could have made sure he was more stable before going to the hospital.
Evans said they don’t carry certain medications as an urgent care, but they’ll be able to carry a wide variety of medications as an emergency care department.
“If we had an emergency department here, we could have done more,” Evans said. “We could have started other medications but as an urgent care we were limited in what we could do.”
Colee’s hospital stay was two days as he was treated for artery blockages, and he said he was feeling well at Tuesday’s news conference on the new emergency department.
Smith said patients with some conditions could be treated in Cullman Regional or Decatur Morgan Hospital. Patients with conditions that require specialized care could be sent to facilities like UAB or Huntsville, he said.
Cullman Regional health system, which serves five north Alabama counties, is expanding its main campus in Cullman from 150 to 175 beds to double the size of the critical care unit and add additional med-surge capabilities. This project is expected to be complete in about a year.
Smith said the good thing about a local emergency department is they could treat a patient and often the patient won’t have to travel to a hospital.