When news broke that the long-awaited reopening date of Scott County’s hospital had been set for Aug. 8, it didn’t take long for someone to ask, “For how long?”
Jennifer Sircy, the human resources director at the newly opened Big South Fork Medical Center, responded, “As long as the community supports it.”
Forgive the skepticism from members of the community. Over the past six years, Scott Countians have seen their only hospital ruled by uncertainty — closing, then reopening, only to close again. Even before the hospital closed the first time, there was plenty of uncertainty, with St. Mary’s threatening to terminate its contract with Scott County if County Commission did not make significant concessions. Commissioners made those concessions, but in the end it didn’t matter.
In her succinct response, Sircy hit the nail on the head: BSF Medical Center will be open as long as the community supports it.
Almost four years ago, when Pioneer Community Hospital of Scott was opening its doors, the Independent Herald editorialized that we, the community, would make or break our hospital. “It’s cliche,” the editorial stated, “but sometimes you really don’t know how much you’ll miss something until it’s gone, and over the last year and a half, Scott County has been awakened to the realization of what it means to be without a hospital and the emergency care that a hospital provides.”
Less than three years later, we were slapped with a sobering reminder when Pioneer Health Services’ house of cards finally collapsed, leaving the Mississippi-based firm in the throes of bankruptcy and with a $500,000 federal tax lien attached to the Scott County facility.
The same truths have been as true over the past 13 months as they were for the 18-month period the hospital was last closed: The prospects of being in a serious car accident, or suffering from a heart attack or stroke, and not having an emergency room physician mere minutes away is frightening. When foul weather prevents air-evac helicopters from flying, the situation becomes even more precarious. From Oneida, the nearest hospital is more than a half-hour away.
And that’s just the health aspect of the hospital. The economic impact is almost as important. BSFMC opened Tuesday with 80 full-time employees, a number that can be expected to grow in the months ahead. Jobs in the health care industry are generally well-paying, and the hospital’s presence in Oneida allows our family and friends who have been driving out-of-town to reach their medical job site to return home. Dozens of Scott County families are the direct beneficiaries of this impact, but the trickle-down nature of this economic boost impacts all of us, from the owners of small retail shops and restaurants where those hospital workers spend their paychecks to the employees who work for those small business owners.
Rural hospitals are in perilous times, with every day bringing new headlines of small-town hospitals closing their doors for good. Our hospital has been given a second chance, and while there are measures our state and federal politicians can take to ensure the success of Scott County’s hospital and others like it, the reality is that the buck stops here — in our own community. Those of us who have health care needs and our primary care doctors here at home will determine the fate of our hospital.
The bottom line? The hospital is here. We might as well use it. Rennova Health has made an investment in our community, and we — as a community — owe it to ourselves to make that same investment in Rennova.
We’ll close with the same three paragraphs we closed with in December 2013: There are certain stigmas attached to rural hospitals. These are stigmas not unique to Scott County’s hospital. The perception is that larger hospitals in urban areas are more sophisticated, with better diagnostic equipment, better physicians and better care. While there are many things rural hospitals are not equipped to do because it does not make sense from a financial standpoint, the doctors, nurses and specialists at community hospitals receive the same training and certifications, and are held to the same standards, as their counterparts at larger hospitals in larger cities.
Certainly, it will be up to BSF Medical Center to earn our trust. The doctors and nurses employed by Rennova must provide care that inspires that trust.
But, in turn, it’s up to us to put trust in the hospital. Our local physicians and the rest of us as potential patients must buy in to this effort. If we don’t, all the work that has gone into making the hospital re-opening a reality will be in vain. The jobs, the tax dollars, the industrial recruitment tool and, most importantly, the health care the hospital provides will all be lost.
For 13 months, we haven’t had a hospital.
Today, we have a hospital.
Let’s use it.