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Posted: Friday, February 8th 2013 at 1:17am

Hospital authority members talk about hospital's future

By Rob Moore Editor
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DEMOREST – Despite the resignation of its CEO on Thursday and a possible strategic partnership with Northeast Georgia Health System, Habersham Medical Center will not be sold or leased.

That was the message conveyed by members of the Hospital Authority of Habersham County in conversations Thursday.

Following the acceptance of long-time CEO Dick Dwozan’s resignation, which was announced to department heads Thursday afternoon, the hospital is under the interim management of authority member Jack Fulbright and vice presidents Jim Peterson and Janice McKenzie.

Second-generation hospital authority member Rick Austin, whose father was on the authority committee that found Dwozan in 1989, explained how department heads were notified of the change.

Authority Chairman Ken Kerby, Fulbright, and Austin, along with McKenzie, Peterson, and vice president Teri Newsome, met with department heads at 1 p.m. Thursday.

“We basically handed them a copy of the press release … and let them know that we accepted the resignation of Dick Dwozan, and made sure they understood that we’re going to work very hard to make sure that we remain a vital and important part of our community,” Austin said. “We took some time to reassure them that the hospital is not going to be sold or leased, but we’ve got some work to do ahead of us, and they are a vitally important part of that work. And encouraged them to have a very open relationship with us, and we’re going to have a very open relationship with them as we couple together to work through this.”

Fulbright, who has more than 30 years of experience in hospital administration, will be on site on a daily basis.

“I feel very confident in the leadership ability of Jack Fulbright,” Austin said. “He has the knowledge and the experience and the expertise to get this done. He is going to be on site on a day-to-day basis for an indeterminate amount of time, until which time we name someone else. He has stepped right in there and is eager to go to work, to continue to serve.”

The hospital remains in the top five employers in Habersham County, contributing about $80 million in revenue to the local and state economy in 2010, a report from the Georgia Hospital Association states.

With more than 600 employees and a payroll of more than $25 million, the hospital is a major economic contributor.

“Habersham Medical Center is vitally important to our community, it is a community hospital, and it’s here to serve the members of our community,” Austin said. “And the board is firmly committed to making sure that it remains a vital and important part in the history of Habersham County.”

Former hospital authority member Barbara Strain also shared her thoughts following Thursday’s announcement.

“I have been a volunteer in different roles at Habersham Medical Center for around 20 years,” Strain said. “My heart is and always will be with our community’s hospital.”

Austin said the hospital is very important to both Habersham County and the region. He said he has watched the hospital grow in his lifetime, and he is optimistic about the future.

“I watched that hospital grow from a small white building on the side of [Highway] 441 to what it has become today,” Austin said.

Austin said no timetable has been set to hire a replacement CEO for the hospital.

“We’re still under Quorum’s contract, so Quorum will be a part of that process, and really there’s not a set timeframe,” Austin said. “At this point, I don’t have any idea how long this process might take to find a permanent replacement.”

Habersham County Commission Chairman Chad Henderson also talked Thursday afternoon about the change in management at the hospital.

“We feel that the hospital authority is doing a good job in trying to make sure that they get that hospital back on solid ground,” Henderson said. “This step that was taken is the first in many steps that are probably going to have to be taken over the next several months to get back to a point that we are on what we consider to be at least stable ground.”

Financial stability is a major concern for the hospital.

“The board of commissioners is going to stand ready to help the hospital authority in any way we can within reason to make sure that that hospital is a viable entity within our community,” Henderson said. “We’re committed to making sure that that hospital is solid and strong, and is there for the people of Habersham County going forward.”

Strain said she looks forward to the hospital’s future.

“I am glad this chapter of HMC history is closed,” Strain said. “I look forward to the bright future that lies ahead. I pledge my support to the authority and dedicated employees. My hope is others in the community will do the same.”

Former authority member Allen Smith also praised the hospital’s employees.

“I want people to know that I appreciate all the hard work of the employees up there, because there are a lot of folks that work every day up there and do a great job, and I appreciate it on behalf of my family and the county,” Smith said.

“And, I wish the best for the hospital authority,” Smith said. “I think we have a great group there now and they’re capable of managing everything up there during this interim. I’d want them to know that I support them, and I think they’re certainly up to the task of the job.”

Current authority members concur, saying they are focused on what must be done at HMC.

“The main thing is for everyone to know that the hospital authority is committed to moving the hospital forward during this transition period, and the hospital will continue to operate with business as usual,” said authority member Donald Anderson.

They admit the work ahead of them won’t be easy.

“There is much work to be done in order to ensure viability of the medical center in these tough economic times, and that continues to be the primary focus of the hospital authority,” Vice Chairman Michael Shirley said.

Link: Link to earlier story about HMC and NGMC strategic plan
Link: Link to story about CEO Dick Dwozan's resignation
Associated Categories: Homepage, Business News, Local/State News

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