A year after CHI St. Joseph Health System ended its contract with Bellville Hospital, the hospital has rebounded and is moving forward without the aid of a corporate giant to support it.
Juanita Romans, chief executive officer of the rebranded Bellville Medical Center, gave an update on the hospital during a luncheon meeting of the Sealy Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday at Tony’s Family Restaurant.
“The hospital was not going in the right direction,” Romans said. “So, in spring of last year the hospital district got together and said what do we want to do? It was at that time we looked at the hospital and said we have so much to offer the community that we can’t let anything get in the way. So, they hired a consultant and we went on to open the hospital to the community as Bellville Medical Center.”
With that has been the bold determination to grow and expand the small, rural hospital.
“We really improved and increased the number and size of specialists,” she said. “What we’ve been doing the last eight months is really growing and looking at the community and saying what does it need? We have grown to where we have almost 500 visits a month in our ER, that’s nearly 5,000 a year. We have over 50 ORs a month and they span from ophthalmology, GI, general surgery, urology, GYN, so we have a lot of specialists there.”
Romans touted the quality of care at Bellville Medical Center.
“The quality of healthcare that you will get in Bellville is equal to anything you will find around. We know our niche, and so we specialize in it,” she said.
At the same time, she knows the hospital isn’t big enough to handle everything.
“If you need to have a heart cath or big heart surgery, of course we will send you to specialists who are in other hospitals that take care of that,” she said. “We are trauma certified; we are stroke certified. That means the state comes in and looks at how we do with those kinds of patients and gives us marks. We have the highest grade for the Level 4 trauma and Level 3 stroke.”
Romans said she has the experience and credentials to back up her claims.
“With all of my experience, and I’ve spent 10 years as a CEO at Memorial Hermann in the TMC, the Texas Medical Center, we were the largest trauma center in the country,” she said. “We had over 1,000 beds. We had every special need that you would ever know. And it is truly my pleasure to be able to do this for Bellville. And, so it doesn’t come lightly. I don’t tell you something that I wouldn’t put my reputation on. That’s important to me as it would be to all of you.”
Romans said part of the hospital’s growth strategy is to expand its reach into Sealy, where only 10% of its volume comes from.
“I’m here to ask for your help in endorsing the medical center. We need you; we want you to be part of our community,” she said. “We believe that we provide good quality healthcare and we
have a great ER, we have a great OR, we have some of the latest technology. We even have a 3-D mammography machine which is not found in any of the communities around. It’s for early detection. We have specialists in cancer care, podiatry, orthopedics, urology, GYN, so we are booming and we are growing and we want to grow with you. Sealy is growing, too, and I know that you in the chamber know that is true. And so we want to be a part of you and a part of that growth.”
She said a key partner in forging that relationship is Dr. Kannappan Krishnaswami of Sealy Urgent Care.
“Dr. Krishnaswami, who is a tried and true physician here in Sealy, has really bonded with us,” she said. “He is really working with us to admit patients there. He sends patients from Sealy to us. We know when we should send people to Memorial City, Hermann, even Katy, but for the most part, where can you get care that is so compassionate and so neighborly and so quick as 15 minutes away. I just want you to understand who we are, what we are doing, what we’re trying to do. We are trying to make sure we are there for people in the community, in their healthcare, whether they’re sick or whether they’re well.”
In order for the medical center to care for the health of the community, it must first be healthy itself. Romans said that wasn’t necessarily the case under CHI.
“The financial struggles were related to the fact that there were huge overheads that were required by CHI,” she said. “And so if you increase the cost you decrease the volume … and so that’s what we found. What we’re trying to do is make sure the hospital is stable. We’re trying to get the volume that will sustain it at the expenses that they can handle. That’s what we’re about doing.
“I will tell you that we do get tax money but it’s very low, it’s very, very low, from Austin County. We will be going back and asking for more tax money. We have the lowest tax rate of any county around for healthcare. I think that right now we’re bringing down the overhead and bringing up the volume, so we’re moving in the right direction. But it’s true, they were not in good shape last year,” she said.
In the last year that she has been in charge, she said Bellville Medical Center has been turning things around financially.
“It’s always hard for a small hospital, but I think that they’re on the right track now,” she said. “I’ve been doing this healthcare business for a while and I truly believe that they will and are sustainable, but we need to grow. Just like any other company. We need to maintain the services that we’re so proud of.”