Field Memorial Community Hospital (FMCH) was built as a Hill Burton institution (funded by federal grants and guaranteed loans) in 1952 on land with boundaries gerrymandered by two counties. Rich in community pride and with the highly-regarded “Field” family of doctors caring for its patients over generations—this Critical Access Hospital has been a vital source of healthcare in Southwest Mississippi for more than 70 years. However, without support from the bicounty jurisdictions the hospital served, there was limited funding for facility upgrades and new medical equipment. Furthermore, the building was literally crumbling and had to be replaced – or closed.
During a difficult time for every rural hospital in America, FMCH’s challenges were exacerbated by its location in one of the nation’s most economically impoverished areas. Recruiting specialty doctors has been almost impossible, even part-time, as the structure was falling to the ground.
One long-term and sustainable effort to untangle part of the complex problem was to build off-site Rural Health Clinics to provide outpatient primary care for the vast geographic area served by the hospital. While the clinics are not extravagant, top-notch care was and is provided inside the Clinics’ walls.
FMCH has been a valued client of QHR since 1987. Even with its challenges, through strong managerial leadership and a committed Board, FMCH continued to reserve a portion of earnings over many years – planning to replace the hospital in the future.
In 2011, sketches for a replacement hospital were drawn; in fact, the drawings were essentially premised on replacing exactly what was already in operation at the old site. In cadence with these sketches, QHR advised that FMCH develop a Strategic Business Plan to assure a long-term, sustainable operation could be maintained in the new facility. In other words, QHR advised that FMCH conduct a service line assessment to help determine what core medical programs would be required to meet the needs of the community, as well as which services were operationally and financially sound at the hospital.
While the Business Plan was in development, hospital management and the Board created an aggressive funding blueprint with three key goals:
Amazingly, those pieces fell into place for a barebones facility replacement — and the hospital still had cash in the bank for basic operating needs. Recognizing that this financial plan was razor thin, QHR’s management advisors introduced an innovative tool to inject New Market Tax Credits into the financial plan. New Market Tax Credits are derived from a federal program allocated to states, and then distributed through qualified banks or related certified entities to candidate institutions in locations that meet certain economic guidelines.
It is a bureaucratic process involving all levels of government—federal, state and local, plus private banks, financial brokers, financial advisors, specialized attorneys and other related entities. QHR’s regional team was familiar with this financial tool and brought several of the players to the hospital’s Board room. This complicated transaction enabled FMCH to access $7 million more in low interest capital, $2 million of which is essentially a grant that will not have to be repaid. This additional funding allowed the hospital to make important technology and facility improvements, plus enhance features of the new hospital that would have been otherwise impossible because of previous capital budget limitations.
Moreover, QHR also developed the marketing plan in conjunction with the hospital staff to guide the new hospital rollout to the region. Marketing for rural, Critical Access Hospitals is a vital tool that too often is overlooked, but the CEO and Board of FMCH understood the value of increasing visibility of and developing a new brand image for the new hospital.
Now located along the main highway, Highway 24, the new Field Health System’s $21 million facility features:
- A new name, which represents the expansion of health care services beyond acute care, including off-campus primary care clinic services.
- Improved access to help emergency vehicles easily reach the facility.
- A new layout to achieve enhanced efficiency and patient flow.
- New, state-of-the-art equipment throughout the new 60,000 square foot hospital.
- A multi-purpose community center.
- A critically needed new helipad for emergency transport.
In addition, the service line assessment completed by QHR consultants identified opportunities to increase surgery and specialty care services at the hospital. The new facility will also improve physician recruiting opportunities.
During a time of extraordinary challenge for rural hospitals, completing a replacement facility project is a reason for celebration, and an opportunity for this small community hospital to continue meeting the healthcare needs of the residents of Southwest Mississippi.