By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
For Madison native Ben Harris, Madison County has always been home, even though he may have spent several years living in other cities around the state, and it was Madison County that he came home to 26 years ago.
He now serves on the Board of Trustees for the First United Methodist Church of Madison, as well as several committees looking to bring economic development to the area. Since retiring in 2008, he has also served as Chair for the Madison County Memorial Hospital Special District Board, a job that he admits has not been easy.
“If I had known two and a half years ago what I would be doing, I would have thought long and hard about it,” he told the 55 Plus Club at one point during his presentation on “Faith, Family, Local History and the New Hospital.” For Harris, Madison’s new hospital-yet-to-come is a culmination of many, many miracles – far too many, he believes, to have been mere coincidence. From large lump-sum reimbursement checks arriving from Medicare just as the current hospital was on the brink of not meeting payroll, to other unexpected checks arriving at other opportune moments that allowed the facility to keep its doors open, to the citizen approval of funding sources for indigent care, to the arrival of just the right person to take the helm as CEO, to the approval of the largest USDA loan in the state’s history, to all the dozens and dozens of other approvals and permits that have been granted in the intervening months as plans move forward for the new facility, Harris sees the many pieces of the puzzle coming together as evidence of the guiding hand of the Lord.
“The Lord wants to bless Madison County, not just the hospital,” Harris told the gathered club members. “But the hospital is a good start.”
The process began six years ago, he said, when the board and administration agreed to replace the outdated 1954 facility with one that would bring health care for Madison County and the surrounding area into the 21st century, incorporating a holistic approach to treating the patient: physically, as well as spiritually, emotionally and mentally.
“Faith, family and local history” will all be part of the fundamental premise of patient care at the new hospital, which Harris hopes will begin construction in January of 2012, and be completed about 18 months later.
“We have so much to do,” said Harris. “And so little time to accomplish it, to give you the best rural hospital possible in the region, if not the state.”
Harris talked about several initiatives the board has undertaken to bring about the best rural hospital possible, including the new state-of-the-art digital information technology system that has replaced the old 1985 computer system. Not only will it allow near-instantaneous transmission of medical data and images to specialists in other locations, it has also made the hospital eligible for a $1.5 million incentive check from Medicare for installing the system well ahead of the mandated 2015 deadline. This is yet another check arriving at an opportune time, said Harris. It is expected sometime in December, and it will allow the hospital to pay off some high-interest old debt and even put some cash into a rainy day fund, “operating even” for the first time in years.
Another initiative, “achieving financial stability” seems within reach now as well, he said, since Medicare has increased per diem reimbursement rates, and the hospital has seen a marked increase in use by residents, bringing in critical revenue.
Improved patient care is another important area, with a new position dedicated to coordinating staff training and proficiency in the latest patient care, especially in areas like wound care management, and another overseeing the swing bed program and infection control.
Finally, there is the new hospital, the biggest initiative of all; or at least, the most obvious. With it, Harris envisions a new level of health care made available to the people of Madison and their families as well, with patient rooms that have adjoining rooms for families to stay with critically ill loved ones 24/7, a full time chaplain, a healing room and a healing garden, things incorporated by other modern state-of-the-art hospitals, recognizing the mind-body connection of health care and the need to treat the whole patient.
Harris then answered several questions, including one about what would become of the old hospital building once the new facility is up and running; currently, plans are for it to become office space for the school district.
In closing, Harris asked the club members to continue their support of the new hospital as the process moves forward.
“Please, pray for us,” he said.