GULF SHORES — Major expansions in medical services are planned to meet the needs of south Baldwin County's booming population, but local hospitals also face shortages in health care providers, …
GULF SHORES — Major expansions in medical services are planned to meet the needs of south Baldwin County's booming population, but local hospitals also face shortages in health care providers, hospital officials said.
Margaret Roley, chief executive officer of South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, told members of the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber on Friday, Dec. 2, that their system is working to expand and rebuild the 63-year-old hospital in Foley and add more services in areas such as Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. They are also working to find doctors, nurses and others to staff those facilities.
"One thing we're seeing across the nation is a massive shortage of health care providers and not just nurses and CT techs, but providers — physicians, nurse practitioners — and we are very fortunate in our area to have a beautiful place to recruit to," Roley said.
She said a study commissioned by the hospital of medical needs in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach areas found that more doctors are needed.
"These are the numbers they came back with. Gulf Shores: you're down 10 primary care doctors," Roley said. She said other areas also need more doctors. "Orange Beach is 10 physicians short. Would you ever have thought that? We didn't. I thought that maybe one or two."
She said the hospital has been working with local officials to provide more services.
"When this information came back, we shared this with the mayors of both cities and their councils and said we are committed to being that provider for you," Roley said. "So, we sat down and came up with a very aggressive recruitment plan with our board. We will be on the trajectory to spend about $6 million in salaries next year for physician recruitment and employment. So that we meet these needs."
The hospital's clinic system now has a staff of about 145. That number should be about 200 by early 2023, said Sarah Sullivan, senior director of clinic operations. She said the system now has 13 clinics and plans to add seven more soon.
"There is such a need in our community that we want you guys to be able to get same day-next day access," Sullivan said. "I do not want you or your family to have to wait two weeks to see a neurologist. If you're pregnant having an issue, we take pride in being able to see you in a very short period of time."
One new facility is the free-standing emergency room in Gulf Shores, Roley said. She said hospital officials expected the center to receive about 30 patients a day. The total has been much higher at times.
"There were multiple days last year that we saw well over 120 patients a day," Roley said. "The unfortunate part, and fortunate part in some ways, is this did not offload any of the volume for the main ER. We thought we would take half of the ER volume from the main and that's not the case. That tells you about the organic growth here in the county, especially south of I-10."
To meet the demands of that growth, the system's main hospital in Foley is being rebuilt in a $250 million construction project, Roley said.
When the facility is completed in about 16 months, it will include a five-story medical center with 250,000 square feet of space.
The hospital will have 10 new operating rooms on its first floor as well as pre-operative and post-operative suites and an endoscopy center.
The second floor will be a women's and children's center that will be unique in the state, Roley said.
"This is the largest part of the construction project." Roley said. "We as a community are growing with our incredible school system that we have here in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores that the cities have taken on. We have young families, a lot more births, a lot more children. So, we have navigated this project to address that. Our second floor will be a complete women's and children's pavilion. There will be none like it in the state."
The third and fourth floors will include intensive care units and will be designed so that patients with contagious conditions can be isolated in one part of the hospital in a future pandemic, Roley said.
She said the fifth floor is being reserved for other uses that will be announced in the future.
"That is our new hospital," Roley said. "That is what we are bringing to the community. It's going to be incredible."