Shortly after I returned to the Franklin County community in 2010, I put myself forward as a potential member of the board of directors at George E. Weems Memorial Hospital. I knew this community service would be challenging for me.
In addition to my primary responsibilities to my wife and two children, I had pressing duties as a pastor, at Fellowship Baptist Church, in Carrabelle, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Liberty University, and my soon-to-be opened law practice, which is now a full-time position with the state of Florida as a criminal defense attorney.
On the other hand, I love Weems. The facility had a part in saving my grandmother’s life by providing life-saving services for her when transport to Tallahassee or Panama City was not possible because of the urgent care she needed. Therefore, I determined that investing my time in the hospital was needful and in fact God’s will for my life.
I assumed my duties upon the recommendation of the Weems board of directors and the unanimous ratification of the county commission. Since that time I have enjoyed my service and look forward to continuing it as long as the county commissioners believe my service is helpful to the Weems organization.
For a number of months our primary task as a board was to search out, interview and offer employment to a person qualified to serve as the chief executive officer of the hospital. After reviewing many resumes and conducting interviews both in person and electronically, the board recommended to the county commission that we extend an offer of employment as Weems’ CEO to Ray Brownsworth. In the end he assumed the position, and relocated his family to Apalachicola. He and his wife, Lori, purchased a home, engaged in our community and immediately began to communicate their long-term commitment to our hospital and community.
Over time, Ray has proven himself to be a person dedicated to the Weems system. He is professional in his conduct and personable in his interaction with stakeholders in our hospital and community. As a member of the board, I hold him in the highest regard.
Presently, Ray is making difficult choices at the hospital and its associated clinics. His primary charges as he came to Weems have been first, to put the current hospital and clinic operations on a profitable footing and, second, to begin to cast vision for a future which involves the improvement of current operations and the eventual construction of a new hospital.
Ray has made great strides toward the primary charges of the hospital board and the county commission; however, this progress has not come without the challenges that accompany great change. He knows the very fabric of Weems must be rewoven if we are to have a profitable, respected and viable institution moving forward. He also knows a new hospital facility will not be constructed unless he continues to make appropriate, necessary and timely changes. The very survival of Weems is at stake here.
As a pastor, professor and attorney, my overwhelming experience has been that change cannot be made without cost. Some costs are easily calculated (such as increased payroll in order to have qualified, competent and expert professionals in place and estimating design/build construction costs); other costs are not so easy to quantify. There are emotional costs when individuals who cannot adapt to the needed changes come to understand that unless they can change and grow, an organization cannot continue to invest time and money in their employment. There are political costs when decisionmakers must face entrenched stakeholders who cannot adapt to change. Political figures face the choice of the immediate gratification of the voters who pressure them to resist change because the voter, their friend or a family member is impacted by their dismissal or reassignment in the organization. Finally, there are spiritual costs where individuals unwilling to change make the choice to become “bitter” rather than to accept change as an opportunity to become “better.” These are the costs we as a community must be willing to pay if Weems is to survive.
During Ray’s tenure at Weems, he has demonstrated forward thinking leadership, professionalism and kindness at every turn. He is committed to the charges given to him by the Weems board and the county commission at the beginning of his relationship with our hospital. He has demonstrated willingness to pay the costs involved in generating necessary change; however, Ray cannot accomplish the charge which we have given him without our help.
My challenge in writing this it to persuade each member of the Weems board to remain firm in their support of Ray as he makes hard, but necessary decisions in order to foster a culture of excellence in the hospital’s organizational structure. As personnel are moved or even dismissed, political pressure will be brought to bear on the individual county commissioners. I urge each commissioner individually and the commission as a whole to resist the temptation to bow to political winds and to stand firm in your support of Ray. He looks to the future, and if Weems is to continue to serve our community the community must likewise look to the future.
Considering the total circumstances at our hospital and the political environment generated by a county-owned facility, I must be blunt. If individuals and organizations cannot adapt and change, they will not be effective in service for the future. We live in a changing world. This principle applies to political figures and to all other stakeholders involved in our hospital.
One of the reasons I applied to admission to Florida Coastal School of Law was because the religious environment in which I was living was changing. The Bible colleges and schools with which I was associated were becoming accredited where before they had resisted accreditation. I needed an accredited degree to continue to teach in those Bible college environments.
Therefore, I earned a juris doctorate from an American Bar Association accredited law school. This gave me the opportunity to teach as I do at Liberty, and, of course, the opportunity to practice law. I had to adapt or be left behind.
We need to thank God for Ray’s leadership as CEO of our hospital; he is challenging us to change or be left behind. The question is, “Will our hospital employees, board members, county commissioners and other hospital stakeholders adapt to a changing world or be left behind?” How we follow his leadership will answer that question and will likely determine whether or not Weems survives.
Dr. Homer Inman McMillan, II, Esq. is a member of the board of directors of George E. Weems Memorial Hospital.