Without question, from the perspective of public involvement, it was a significant year for Weems Memorial Hospital.
As usual, the hospital weathered a few storms, including the loss of one of its ambulances, totaled on a run through Wakulla County, and the arrest of one of its paramedics for sexual-related crimes while on the job. By mid-year, the county saw the retirement of its CEO, H. D. Cannington, who had replaced his ousted predecessor in 2018.
With the hiring of local pastor and retired health department manager David Walker as his successor, the county moved forward on a review of the hospital’s future. The county commissioners heard from the architectural firm working on a plan for a roughly $10 million replacement facility, amounting to a complete renovation and the addition of 22,000 square feet.
The plan, long in the hopper, has secured federal loan funding, but has changed over the past decade, and still is not in its final form. So commissioners decided to hold off on a decision until they heard more from possible suitors to manage the new facility.
The first, from Alliant, suggested what boiled down to a $30,000 a month management fee, including the CEO’s salary, with a promise to work closely with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, with which Weems has long had a loose partnership. The Alliant proposal was long on a hopeful strategy but short on details, and the commission tucked that into their vest pocket for further consideration.
The proposal from Ascension-Sacred Heart was a sharp contrast, with a wealth of specifics as to what they intended to do if an agreement could be reached. These details, to shut down the acute care hospital, maintain a standalone emergency room located wherever the county so desires, and to invest money in expanding services, were not warmly embraced across the board, with many in the community arguing Ascension was the county’s best hope for preserving quality health care here in the long run, and others contending that it would cost jobs, end local oversight of health care, and lead to a growing dependence on Gulf County for health care services.
A public meeting of the Weems board of directors drew an enormous audience, with both sides making a strong case for their positions. Weems board chair Doug Creamer promised a recommendation early in 2020 for the county commission to consider.
Meanwhile, using monies received from the insurance company for Hurricane Michael damage, the hospital replaced its roof in the latter part of the year, with that work soon to be fully completed.