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Mayor: More hospital info needed

By By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
Following the announcement by Crestwood Hospital and Huntsville Hospital regarding the construction of a full-service hospital in Madison, Mayor Jan Wells is asking residents to ask questions on the issue and to share that information with her and the city council.
In 1997, Huntsville Hospital purchased land on U.S. Highway 72 for a proposed medical campus. A medical office building was completed on the site in 2000 and construction of a wellness center is now under way. Wells said Huntsville Hospital CEO Joe Austin came to her in mid Aug. 2002 to ask her for her support for the hospital's continued growth on the site.
"Austin said a wellness center would be the next step, with a hospital three to four years out," Wells said. "My answer was affirmative. At an Aug. 28 press conference, Huntsville Hospital announced an advanced timeline for the hospital project."
According to Mayor Wells, in early 2001, Crestwood Medical Center representatives expressed interest in building a community hospital in Madison and asked her to help in gathering data.
"I was pleased to provide information regarding city zoning maps and potential sites, as well as contact information for city departments and boards," Wells said.
This past spring, the mayor said she met with Crestwood's new CEO and president, Brad Jones, who indicated his intention to bring a full service hospital to Madison in the immediate future and asked for her support.
"Subscribing the sooner than later philosophy, I enthusiastically assented," Wells said. "The bottom line in all of this is that Madison residents have the right to timely access to health and emergency services. That time is now. Both petitioners are professional, high-quality providers of health services."
Wells said a hospital in Madison is an important decision and she expects the residents will take an active interest in the decision making process.
"I encourage all Madison residents to ask questions, exercise due diligence in getting your answers and form your opinions based on the facts," Wells said. "Talk to your family physician, your company benefits provider, your insurance carrier and your neighbors. Then, talk to me and the city council and let us know what you think and that you have made an informed decision based on fact, not emotion."
A proposed hospital in Madison has officials at nearby Athens-Limestone Hospital worried about the possible closure of that facility. Mayor Wells said she does not know how many Madison residents who live along County Line Road use the hospital in Athens for their healthcare needs.
"I don't know if having a hometown hospital would create such a significant loss of revenue to Athens-Limestone Hospital that jobs would be lost, or worse yet, set the stage for possible closure of the hospital. I don't know if the best place for a hospital is on Highway 72 or somewhere else in the city."
Wells said in the coming weeks, additional information will be provided regarding the issue and she welcomes the communities input.
"Healthcare and hospitals in the United States is a complex issue and most average citizens are not interested, nor knowledgeable about the complexities of the issues," Wells said. "Fortunately, Madison is not average. I encourage the unique privilege of leading our young, well-educated residents in charting the city's future."
A letter from the mayor's office to Frank Brown, chairman of the Alabama Statewide Health Coordinating Council, states the city's support in a request to change the State Health Plan to include 120 hospital beds in Madison . The letter states it is in the best interest of the residents of Madison for there to be a full and open competition to determine who will build a new hospital and the best way to provide for the needs is for the council to include Madison in the health plan and encourage open competition as to who will provide these beds.

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