Stringfellow gained new permanent CEO Barry Keel on May 7 — just a day before the state gave final approval for the Anniston hospital’s long-delayed surgical facility expansion project. The hospital has been without a permanent CEO since the previous one, John Gallagher, stepped down in November.
The hospital announced the $7.5 million expansion project in May last year. Keel said prep work for the project began Wednesday and that actual construction could begin later this week or next week. The project is slated to take between nine and 12 months.
Stringfellow needed final approval from the Alabama Department of Public Health to begin construction. The department licenses all health care facilities statewide to make sure all buildings meet state rules and codes.
“The statement that their drawings have been approved and they can start construction is correct,” said Victor Hunt, director of facility management at the state health department.
The expansion project includes upgrading equipment, refurbishing three existing operating rooms and constructing three new operating rooms.
Keel, who worked for the last six years as CEO of Vaughan Regional Medical Center in Selma, said the project would be a boon for the community.
“Clearly it will,” Keel said. “Anytime you have that kind of investment for surgery expansions and patient access … clearly the facility needs that to better meet the needs of the patients.”
Keel said the project, which will include razing a section of the back of the hospital, would not interrupt medical services.
“The areas we’ll be demolishing are primarily office areas and those people have already been relocated,” Keel said. “This will be an expansion of what we currently have, so the current operating rooms will be kept in conjunction with the new ones … and eventually we’ll begin to tie the two together.”
Stringfellow’s expansion project was stalled in August after the State Planning and Development Agency’s Certificate of Need Review Board put it on hold until the hospital provided more details. Stringfellow’s chief competitor, Regional Medical Center, had brought a complaint to the regulatory agency that the expansion project included a plan to offer heart surgery. Stringfellow denied the allegations, saying its initial project plans mentioned a heart surgery facility accidentally and would not be included in the final design.
Under state law, a hospital or other medical facility must obtain a certificate of need from the Certificate of Need Review Board if it intends to expand or build a new facility that surpasses certain cost thresholds or if it plans to offer a new medical service, such as open heart surgery. RMC is the only hospital in the area with state permission to perform heart surgery.
After Stringfellow officials promised the hospital would not perform heart surgery, the state agency gave the initial go-ahead in October for the expansion project.
“Our declaratory ruling covered them as far as that,” said Clark Bruner, health planner with the State Planning and Development Agency. “The CON is satisfied.”
Keel, a Tallapoosa County native with a degree in health administration from Auburn University, has been a CEO at four other hospitals before coming to Stringfellow. Along with running Stringfellow, Keel will also be market CEO for Riverview Regional Medical Center in Gadsden. Both hospitals are owned by Florida-based Health Management Associates.
Keel said he plans to stay at Stringfellow for years to come.
“Geographically, it’s a good place because I have two children currently (at) Auburn University and my wife and I desire to remain in Alabama,” Keel said. “It’s just the right fit at the right time.”