Staff Opinion from

Imagine breaking your leg on the far eastern end of Ono Island or having a stroke in far-western Fort Morgan. Your closest hospital is South Baldwin Regional Medical Center in Foley. The long-distance ambulance ride to Foley is daunting from those locations when you are in a serious medical emergency. Compound the distance with sometimes heavy traffic especially during high tourist season, and you can see that additional medical facilities are needed to quickly serve our Island communities.

A few years ago, discussions were held by the corporation operating South Baldwin Regional Medical Center about constructing a new hospital nearer the middle of the three communities along the Foley Beach Express, converting the current facility into a convalescence center. But Foley leaders were concerned that moving the active hospital out of Foley would devastate real estate values, especially commercial real estate now occupied by so many doctor’s offices and cripple downtown re-development initiatives. Foley leaders rightly knew the negative impact a hospital move would make while leaders of the beach communities rightly knew they needed closer full-service emergency medical facilities.

On June 18 leaders of the corporation running South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, the mayors and the councils of all three cities broke ground on a plan where all entities will win.

Leaders and property owners from all three cities, joined by a cadre of medical professionals, fire and EMT department employees, gathered under a tent just north of Gulf Shores’ Jack Edwards airport runway. With the roaring sounds of airplane takeoffs and landings in the background, leaders turned the first soil to start building a long-needed beach full-service emergency facility. The 12-room facility will have immediate access off Hwy 59 for Gulf Shores emergencies and a new cut-through road to Cotton Creek drive for emergencies from Orange Beach. This is a long-awaited win for the Island residents and visitors.

At that same ceremony, plans were unveiled for a $170 million renovation to the current Foley hospital, increasing capacity and improving the facility in an impressive investment that will serve all three cities for a generation to come while the area continues to grow.

This is not the first cooperation between cities as it relates to the hospital. Earlier this year Foley’s Fern Street extension opened to speed Orange Beach ambulances up The Beach Express and directly to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. The cities of Orange Beach and Foley partnered together to install preemptive traffic light systems that further speed the ambulance trip.

The outcome of the beaches’ need for additional medical facilities could have been much different and much worse. Without Foley cooperation, the beach cities could have lobbied the governor for their own certificate of need to build a hospital, siphoning patients and money away from Foley, hurting that hospital while itself struggling to maintain a full hospital serving a small and insufficient patient base.

But by working together, the beaches will now have nearby full-service emergency medicine, South Baldwin Regional Medical Foley will continue to serve the region with a strong patient base that will support the $170 million investment that helps all cities have a first rate hospital. And Foley can continue its revitalization efforts confident that continued employee and patient family presence in Foley will sustain that city.

Bravo to our leaders for working together for a win- win for all parties, especially the patients that will be served.