Pauls Valley extends $361k to community hospital on brink of closure

PAULS VALLEY, Okla. — A Pauls Valley hospital authority board approved a financial lifeline Wednesday to help its community hospital make payroll and stave off closure, all as a new management company promises it can turn the facility’s financials around.

Pauls Valley General Hospital will remain open — for now — and meet payroll, after receiving $361,000 from city coffers. The Pauls Valley Hospital Authority voted unanimously Wednesday evening to approve the one-time cash influx.

More than 100 people filled the standing-room only city hall chambers, some hospital employees, waiting for word on the hospital’s future. The authority was slated to consider ceasing hospital operations and proceed with closing the facility. That has now been tabled, for the time being.

“There will be no action on that tonight, the hospital will be open for business tomorrow morning,” said Pauls Valley Mayor Gary Alfred as the room quickly erupted with applause.

“I think it goes without saying, we need to thank Pauls Valley National Bank, city employees, physicians,” Alfred said. “As rural hospitals, you know is a very, very tough situation. I will tell you payroll will be paid tomorrow.”

“I’m so relieved,” said Tammy Morris after the meeting, who works as a registered nurse in the hospital pharmacy. “There’s 200 employees that count on that for their livelihood. They need the hospital. We all need the hospital.”

Alliance Health Partners, which took over operation of the facility in July, said it has made a cash infusion of half-a-million dollars into the facility so far. The city’s assistance in payroll will help put the facility on sounder financial footing.

“As the hospital becomes healthier over the coming months, and it will take a full year or maybe 18 months until the hospital’s out of the woods, but in the next 90 days, when you return, you’ll see a different facility,” said Alliance Health Partners CEO Frank Avignone.

“Keeping this hospital open is, on so many different levels, an absolute necessity to keep Pauls Valley as a viable city.”

Pauls Valley General Hospital is one of three hospitals Alliance Health Partners manages in the state, including Magnum and Seiling.

Morris, the pharmacy nurse, said she’s optimistic about the hospital’s future under the new leadership.

“The management people, they’re completely different and I believe they truly care — not only about the employees — but the community.”

If the hospital were to close, so would its ambulance service, forcing some people needing hospital-level care would have to travel to other hospitals at least 20 miles away.

“I don’t want us to lose our hospital,” said Shirley Tennison, 81, who volunteers in the hospital gift shop.

The city and hospital are currently involved litigation with the previous management company. Alfred declined to comment on those specifics, but said city’s choice to support the hospital with taxpayer dollars was an easy decision, once the financial hurdles were figured out.

“When you say ‘easy’ everyone on the authority realizes the importance of the hospital,” Alfred said. “We have to have a hospital, we have to have rural healthcare.”

Back to basics

Under Alliance Health’s plan, Avignone said the hospital will go back to what it’s designed to do: provide community services without shortcuts and high-quality care at reasonable costs.

“So what does that mean?” said Avignone, addressing the crowd after the board’s decision. “That means the hospital is no longer going to be a laboratory. It’s no longer going to just be a pharmacy. It’s going to be a full-service hospital.”

Avignone said he received text messages from surgeons at other healthcare facilities wishing to come to Pauls Valley, and two wanting to moving their entire practice to the hospital.

Since the takeover, Avignone said the hospital has performed 44 surgeries and will continue to increase its volume. While optimistic, he said he’s clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead.

“We’re not out of the woods. Many of you today, standing in this room, have heard me to everything short of begging to get the message out,” Avignone said. “We have to reach out to rural Oklahoma, anybody that can hear our message and help us: financially, could be brain surgeries, could be bringing support, could be anything. Come in to the facility and hug a nurse, a technician, an orderly or anything.”