Open Doors: Tax hike to keep Camden hospital takes effect

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The SelmaTimes-Journal

CAMDEN – Residents in Wilcox County voted to increase their property taxes during the last general election to help sustain J. Paul Jones Hospital. The next closest hospital is about an hour’s ride in either direction.

Hospital employees and residents say the need for the facility is critical,

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imposing a three mills property tax that takes effect this year.

The increase has taken effect on vehicle tag purchases and effective Oct. 1, property owners will pay a one-tenth of three percent (.003) property tax increase, which will be used for the hospital.

JPJH is staffed around the clock by four attending physicians, Willie White, Roseanne Cook, Basem Alkurdi and Sumter Blackmon.

“He’s a major part of this hospital,” said Libby Kennedy, hospital administrator, of Dr. Blackmon. “All of our doctors are, but Dr. Blackmon’s been around for a long time.”

Kennedy has lived in Camden since 1986. She said she knows personally of how important the hospital – primarily an outpatient care facility – is to the community.

“The need is great, because we’re the only hospital in the county,” Kennedy said. “When we first started talking about it (a tax increase) we had a lot of support. My family has needed this hospital, even before I started working here. It’s 35 miles to Thomasville, or depending on what part of the county you’re in. It’s 45 minutes to Monroeville, 45 minutes to Selma and an hour from Greenville and Evergreen. We don’t need to close it.”

JPJH has a helicopter pad and Kennedy said patients in need of specialized treatments can be flown out within 30 minutes to either Birmingham, Montgomery or Mobile.

Hollis Curl, newspaper publisher and member of the JPJH Board of Directors, said the hospital board recently worked with the Wilcox County Ambulance Board – on which Curls also serves – to have the hospital take on its billing and accounts payables.

Curl said the reason the hospital has survived has been “good management” and personal service.

The new tax means “it’ll be that much more operating money to meet routine expenses,” Curl said. “J. Paul Jones is one of the few hospitals that’s never received any public money and it won’t until October 2007.”

Built in the 1950s in compliance with the Hill-Burton Act, which required each county to have a hospital, JPJH and a hospital in Centerville are the only small, independent hospitals left.

“The hospital has operated actually enough to make a profit, even better than any of the ones in Selma,” Curl said. “Selma had two hospitals, now one of them has been torn down.”

Gladys Luker, R.N., has been a nurse since 1975. She said what makes the 32-bed JPJH special is the patient care area residents receive.

“Being small, we treat everybody like it’s their own family,” Luker said. “Healthcare is a major issue, especially in a rural area like this. The working people don’t have time to go somewhere else. And we don’t turn anyone down, even if they don’t have health insurance.”