Arguing the merits of Selma’s Good Samaritan
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2004
What does the City of Selma need with a rundown ex-hospital with a 10-year, $400,000 sticker price?
It just depends on whom you ask.
Dr. Ray White, of Franklin, Tenn., appeared before the Selma City Council’s special work session Monday and shared a piece of his vision to help restore the historic Good Samaritan Hospital building while providing health care to the uninsured and underinsured in the Black Belt.
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“If we can pull this off, not only will we have prominence in Alabama, but this facility will be recognized all over the world because of (its) history,” White said.
White is project manager of ProHealth Selma, Inc.; a separate Alabama non-profit health agency from his Tennessee based ProHealth Rural Health Service Inc.
He presented the city council with a project mission and an abstract outlining the future of the building.
“Our mission challenges us to create services for the uninsured and underinsured that enhance the value of the entire span of life by eliminating disparities,” the group’s mission statement reads. “Meeting this challenge requires proven business expertise, foresight and organizational excellence.
We have a plan that organizes our many abilities and maps the way forward.”
That White appeared before the council and briefly discussed the plan drew a positive response from council members who have been openly against the project and others who have been skeptical.
“I was really pleased to hear Dr. White,” councilman Reid Cain said. “I was pleased to know he was seeking to develop a plan. We can begin to develop a plan and a program for our indigent care concerns in our community.”
Council President George Evans, who listed a number of questions about the project in the minutes of Monday’s meeting, said White’s presentation was a positive step, but more questions need to be answered.
“Dr. White gave us some positive steps in terms of what he hopes to do,” Evans said. “He gave us some hope that there are some other non-profit organizations that want to come to Selma and make that program a reality.”
White specifically addressed a pair of the sticking points brought up in previous council meetings.
White said the ProHealth would commit to a 10-year agreement to match the city’s obligation and ProHealth’s payment alone would exceed the City’s mortgage payment commitment on the building.
“We made the commitment that is if they wanted the facility here, that we would go ahead and develop it. That’s why I’m here,” he said. “We didn’t come down here to get into politics or anything of that sort.”
White told the council members that ProHealth Selma Inc. has applied for over $2 million in grants to aid in providing health, dental, mental health and substance abuse care in the Good Samaritan building.
“We knew that there was not a whole lot of money. Everything we did, we didn’t come here looking for money,” White said. “Because we needed grant money we have applied for $1.9 million for the facility and another $150,000 for dental care, so we can get a running start.”
“There’s a lot of developmental things that would have to be handled and worked out,” Cain said. “I guess that the beauty of it is Dr. White had a lot of good things to say.”
Evans said if the grant funding could be secured and ProHealth’s lease obligation would cover the city’s costs, then he could support the move. Without those assurances, he said it isn’t wise to invest the city’s money in the project.
“First of all these grants need to be secured so we can know they’re in house and they have a duration of years,” he said. “Until those grants can be secured and there is some accountability there, I don’t know how we as a council can go forward with anything yet, until we have assurances that we won’t be left holding the bag.”
Cain said the city should be in no rush to move forward with the purchase of the building.
“We can really work out a plan of action,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be a working relationship with everybody on this council being part of it.”
Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., who said he is making Selma and the Black Belt’s poor health a priority, says there is no reason for the city to drag their feet.
“The tenants who are present deserve to know the status. They deserve for this to be completed as soon as possible. The sooner we can get this situation behind us the sooner we can move forward with the mission” Perkins said. “I’m not interested in this being some kind of prolonged process. The idea is to try and make the transaction as timely as possible.”
Councilman Johnnie Leashore says the city can afford to go ahead and buy the building and get ready to begin the project.
“I think it’s within the means of this city to take to on that project. (If) we can engage in financial help to a project such as the St. James Hotel, than naturally we can do the same thing for an institution taking care of the needs of black citizens not only in Selma and Dallas County but in the Black Belt,” Leashore said. “Being Catholic and knowing how the Catholics have operated the Good Samaritan Hospital for a number of years prior to it going out of business, the institution in and of itself warrants saving.”
And that’s the rub.
While council members can sit and crunch numbers, the emotional and historical value of the building seem to be much harder to put a price tag on.
“I do have some very personal interest in it,” said Leashore, whose mother was treated for three fractured ribs and a fractures skull at the Good Samaritan after the Bloody Sunday March. “That was the institution that brought about some medical relief for my mother who was beaten by state troopers, local posse men that were deputized by Jim Clarke on that infamous day (Bloody Sunday). If it were not for the Good Samaritan Hospital then perhaps my mother would have come to death. It was a sad day in our community thank God you had a facility such as Good Samaritan Hospital.”
Evans, who son was born in the hospital and wife worked there, said he also has an emotional attachment to the facility.
“I have a love for that building and that significant history there,” he said. “(But) we should make sure if we make an investment people won’t suffer in terms of making those payments.
For White the facility’s history is a key to the project.
“We would really like for the facility to be in the Good Samaritan Hospital. Why? It’s quite simple. I read that in that hospital Dr. Martin Luther King told Rep. John Lewis, ‘John don’t worry about it, that march will be completed to Montgomery.’ and I’ve never forgotten it,” White said. “The historical value of that facility belongs to the people of Selma whether you’re black or white. I wouldn’t be able to vote if it hadn’t been for that conversation in the hospital. When you start talking about it’s very difficult for us to separate the financial part from the emotion.”
However, Cain believes the emotional value is tied to the name as much as the building, which hasn’t served as a hospital in many years.
He believes the city may be better off by creating a new facility, under the Good Sam name, to serve the uninsured and underinsured health care needs.
“The real sentimental value is in the Good Samaritan name, that’s what we need to maintain in this community whether it’s in that building or another building that we go through the process of creating on our own,” Cain said. “We want the best facilities possible for our people whether they’re indigent or not.”
State of the Good Sam
Sentimental value aside, the building needs work.
After a project to restore the building by a pair of local doctors, Charles and Samuel Lett, failed, the future of the building fell into doubt.
The Lett’s went to bankruptcy court, but failed to make regular payments afterwards.
Then, the court sent the building’s current tenants a letter threatening to padlock the doors.
That’s were the city stepped in, negotiating a plan that would allow the city to buy the building for $400,000 spread over a 10-year period.
In addition to that investment, the building needs maintenance work as well.
The fourth floor’s concrete is pocked with holes the give a clear view of the third floor.
Sections in the upper part of the building’s maintenance rooms are filled with the remnants of an apparent partial ceiling collapse.
Also some of the heating and water piping appears aged and in need of repair.
“We’re trying to shape a solution that will work and I don’t have a perfect solution to this vary complex problem,” Perkins said. “I believe given the opportunity, we can shape a solution that will work.”