Chuck Colvert Breathes New Life Into Franklin County Heathcare
Miracle Worker Chuck Colvert has transformed Weems Hospital in his three years at the helm By Lee Gordon Originally published in the Feb/Mar 2010 issue of 850 Business Magazine
In 2006, Apalachicola’s Weems Hospital was at a crossroads. It had no CEO, and the future looked bleak. The previous operator had walked into a city commission meeting, dropped the keys to the hospital on a desk and resigned. So, with hope fleeting, Weems turned to longtime health care guru Chuck Colvert. He was asked for only a three-month commitment until a permanent solution could be found. Those three months turned into 36 months, and now Colvert is the permanent solution.
“Up until three years ago, I was with Baptist Health System, the largest health system in Alabama,” said Colvert, who has worked in the health care industry for 35 years. “I went off and did consulting on my own, and a friend of mine told me about this position and asked if I would talk to them.”
Since taking the job at Weems, Colvert has been on a crusade to improve health care in Franklin County. As the chief financial officer of Baptist, he was showered with funding and resources. At Weems, he has had none of that. But with the help of the county commission and a dedicated board of directors, he has been able to raise money and expand the hospital in ways never imagined.
“One of the things the hospital board asked me to do is help with a tax referendum — passing a one-cent sales tax so the hospital could have proper funding,” he said. “It was approved by the citizens of Franklin County, and that showed me they wanted quality heath care. I always thought it would pass, but I will tell you that I was shocked at the advantage that it passed by (70-30).”
Ever the optimist, Colvert had taken on a difficult situation and was starting to make it blossom. The situation got even better when Colvert partnered with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in an arrangement that has reaped incredible health care benefits for Franklin County.
“When I gave my report two and a half years ago, we needed stable funding. And I recommended more bench strength,” he said. “In small, rural communities, you don’t have a group of people who are trained in health care. In January (2009), we entered into a management agreement with TMH that has proven to be very beneficial.”
Colvert knew the advantages of working with a large hospital. But he had to sell his vision to TMH and present a business model that would benefit not only the residents of Franklin County, but also those in Wakulla and Leon counties and the surrounding communities. His plan was to provide patients with something they never had before — access to critical care right at their fingertips.
“One of the services is gastroenterology,” Colvert said. “A physician from Tallahassee comes here and does GI procedures in Franklin County, which helps everybody. The prep that you have to do (for the procedure) is not very comfortable, so (now the patients won’t) have that long travel distance. It helps Tallahassee Memorial, what we can do down here. They are so busy there; we can help ease some of the burden. It’s also improved the education for the staff in our hospital; we’ll do more of that. We want more subspecialists from Tallahassee to come to Franklin County.”
Colvert came up with a plan to raise money and make health care affordable and prominent in Franklin County. And with the help of the one-cent sales tax, not only has he increased revenue, he also now has enough capital to build a clinic in Carrabelle.
“We’ve been in it a year, and this past year, in the worst economy, we raised a total of $120,0000 a month on average,” Colvert said. “To address both our short-term and long-term desires, we’ve taken the money and split it in half — half for current operations, half set aside for future capital and infrastructure.”
The clinic will cost $1.2 million to build. With the capital funding from the sales tax, the hospital board was able to break ground on what is one of the most anticipated openings in Franklin County in a long time. Subspecialists from TMH will be brought in to work with patients. But more than that, the clinic will be able to provide primary and urgent care in a county that has long suffered from a lack of options.
Under Colvert’s leadership, Franklin County has dedicated itself to providing better health care resources — a major step as the county positions itself to promote economic development, hoping to lure more businesses and tourists to the region.
Q&A: Chuck Colvert
It’s not often that you are able to get a community to give more money in this down economy. How were you able to convince the people of Franklin County to support the hospital and the new clinic? It’s rare, because local governments can get real political, real quick. This (county) commission responded quickly and put together the hospital board, and it was a real blessing, the people they had. The chairman is a nurse executive, Gayle Dodds, who worked at Dartmouth and who is married to the former chief of obstetrics and gynecology of Dartmouth.
You could have stayed for three months and then left for something bigger. Why did you decide to stay at Weems and see your vision through to the end? It’s the people, but it’s also the beauty of the area and the diversity of the area. I love to hunt and fish, so this works into my desire for extracurricular activity. The county commission has been forthright by not letting this hospital go under while some of the others did go under.
What kind of advice could you give someone who is up and coming in the health care industry and looking to run a hospital or clinic one day? You have to like diversity, because you have (to deal with) the entire spectrum. You are running a small city, because you have to provide dietary, sanitation and the facilities. You have to understand the medical complexities, because we are all graded upon the quality of care we are providing now, so you have to run this massive undertaking, making sure everything is there, all the while satisfying the scientific side.
How has the economy and the health care debate helped or hindered your progress at Weems? There’s little that we can do to affect the national health care debate. We are affected very much, and there are a large number of people in our county who do not have health care insurance, so we are anxious. The economy is affecting all of it. No, we won’t get everything we want, but with the passage of the sales tax, it has helped us.
A group of women in Franklin County recently sold calendars to raise money for research. How did that come about? We did some clinical studies in the county and found something unusual: The No. 1 killer (worldwide) is heart disease, but not in Franklin. No. 1 here is cancer. We also found that there was not a mammography machine between Tallahassee and Panama City so that ladies can have their breast exams every year. So we said publicly that we need to work on that and address those issues. After a year, the women raised $40,000. Now, any lady who can’t afford to have breast care screening, they’ll pay for it and have it done free.