When I returned to Franklin County in 2010 I thought my family’s time here would be a temporary season in our lives; however, the Lord had different plans, and after I became the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Carrabelle I realized that I would have the privilege of once again putting down roots here in my hometown and my home county. At the point that I knew I would be a longtime resident of the county, I began to pray about a place of service in the community beyond my investment in church ministry. As a result, I have had the honor of serving on the George E. Weems Memorial Hospital’s board of directors for nearly three years. I am grateful for County Commissioner Cheryl Sanders placing my name into nomination for service and to the then seated board of directors approving my appointment. I invest my time in this capacity because I am absolutely convinced that Weems is a critical piece of the necessary infrastructure for the community services available to Franklin County residents and our guests from around the country and from around the world.

Weems Memorial Hospital has a special place in my heart because its existence was key in saving my grandmother Mae Bound’s, life. When she was in her 80s, she was admitted to Weems as an emergency surgical patient at the hospital. Dr. Chai Sereebutra was the admitting physician, and he stated to our family that my grandmother would not survive an ambulance ride to either Tallahassee or Panama City because of an acute gall bladder infection. The good doctor stated, “If you want, I will have her transferred, but she (will) die.” My family considered “Dr. Chai’s” advice, and asked him to do the surgery in the then existing operation room at Weems. My grandmother’s gall bladder burst just after it was removed and she survived the incident to live into 97th year. It is not likely that she could have survived a journey to another surgical facility. Because Weems Memorial Hospital was here, we enjoyed Grandma Bounds’ influence and presence in our lives for many more years than would otherwise have been possible.

That said, I have become aware that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just issued a report which in effect requests that Congress allow Critical Access Hospitals such as Weems to be reviewed for possible decertification as a Critical Access Hospital because, the report states, “the CAH certification results in increased spending for both Medicare and beneficiaries, (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) should ensure that the only CAHs to remain certified would be those that serve beneficiaries who would otherwise be unable to reasonably access hospital services.”

This action would be devastating to Franklin County if it were to result in the George E. Weems Memorial Hospital to lose its certification as a Critical Access Hospital. Furthermore, such an action would distress Franklin County if it removed this necessary and critical health care resource from our community. This action would be especially egregious in light of the recent acknowledgement of the U.S. Department of Commerce that our precious Apalachicola Bay is in the midst of a fisheries disaster. It would be akin to kicking our community when we were already down.

Admittedly, we are in partnership with the federal government in the mission of meeting the healthcare needs of our community. If we are to build a modern, efficient hospital it is likely that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be a major player in that process. Likewise, the Department of Health and Human Services has a “dog in the hunt” when it comes to being good stewards of the taxpayer funded Medicare and Medicaid services provided through our hospital. It is important to weigh decisions at the federal level carefully in these difficult economic times. On the other hand, to fail to recognize the need for certified Critical Access Hospitals such as Weems would the height of folly. Our hospital is a much-needed community resource, and it is indeed the provider of critical care to Franklin County residents and guests alike.

Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that every resident of Franklin County and every guest of our beautiful beaches, woodlands and water resources along with the consumers who benefit from the seafood harvested from our bay, and the Gulf of Mexico beyond the bay, to contact their U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and our member of the House of Representatives, Steve Southerland, II, and request that they vigorously oppose any law or administrative rule that would cost Critical Access Hospitals such as Weems their certification as such.

Most Sincerely,

Dr. Homer Inman “Mac” McMillan, II, Esq.

Pastor, Fellowship Baptist Church