Group planning surgical center

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 17, 2002

The facilities are popping up all over Alabama. One could open in six months if a group of doctors and financiers get state approval.

According to Kim Ballard, a Dallas County commissioner and administrator at a York hospital, Selma could get an outpatient surgical center that might help reduce the out-migration of patients in the area.

The project, worth $2.7 million, would be built off Medical Center Parkway and would initially employ 10 people.

“We would start with two surgery rooms and leave room for expanding, knowing we’d eventually have more rooms than that,” said Ballard, who worked at Selma Baptist before Province Healthcare bought the facility.

With the integration of Selma’s two hospitals, which Ballard said was necessary for healthcare to survive in Dallas County, the commissioner said many patients have become disgruntled at having to wait for minor surgical procedures.

“In February, we had a meeting with a group of local doctors, and I was overwhelmed at the turnout we had,” he said.

According to Ballard, more than 30 doctors and their spouses came to the meeting about building a surgical center in Selma.

“There’s just too much volume for the existing facility we have, and the company that owns my hospital in York decided to pursue the concept of a free standing surgical center,” he said. Ballard works for Ameris Health System, a healthcare company based in Nashville.

Surgical centers are not new. Most provide outpatient, minor surgeries such as constructive or plastic surgery, cataract surgery or numerous scope cases.

In order for the surgical center to be built, Ballard and a group of backers, including Ameris Health System, must be awarded a certificate of need from the state of Alabama.

Ballard said he feels certain that the certificate will be granted and that he expects a decision by June 10.

“I guess the only people that would oppose this project would be the hospital,” he said.

Claire Twardy, spokeswoman for Vaughan Regional Medical Center, said the hospital, and its parent company, Province Healthcare, would not comment on whether they will oppose the certification process.

Earlier this week local media reported that Province would not oppose the process, though Twardy said she was not asked that question.

Ballard, who was released from his duties at Vaughan Regional Medical Center after the merger of the two Selma hospitals, said the surgical center is not borne out of “sour grapes.”

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Anybody who thinks we would spend $2.7 million on a project out of sour grapes is crazy.”

The certificate of need process has affected Vaughan for the past six months. In March, Province was forced to close its Dallas Avenue campus because Alabama law does not allow one hospital company to operate two facilities.

Before the Alabama Legislature’s session ended this year, State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, tried to get a bill passed that would allow Province to operate both facilities under the same license. That bill stalled in the House of Representatives and did not pass.

If granted the certificate, Ballard said the surgical center built in Selma will have a share of local ownership.

“Local people will own 49 percent of this center, and I’m serving in somewhat of a consulting capacity right now,” he said.

Ballard said he did not plan to leave his position at Hill Hospital in Sumter County.

“I plan to retire there,” he said.