Residents of Limestone, Lawrence and Morgan counties have the best of all worlds when it comes to hospital care.
They enjoy the convenience and quick access to care provided by hospitals in Athens, Moulton and Decatur, but they also have the reassurance that additional resources and expertise are available through those hospitals' affiliation with Huntsville Hospital Health System, the second-largest in Alabama.
Decatur General and Parkway Medical Center were consolidated under the name Decatur Morgan Hospital by the Huntsville Hospital Health System in 2012. Huntsville Hospital also operates Athens-Limestone Hospital in Athens and Lawrence Medical Center in Moulton.
“I have friends in other places who have had to wait weeks to be seen by doctors,” Morgan County resident J.R. Webb said. “I’ve never had that problem here. When it’s really mattered, our medical questions have been addressed quickly and efficiently and affordably. You can’t ask for much more.”
Webb, who has used doctors and dentists in Decatur and Morgan County for the past 30 years, says the quality and affordability of local health care has made life better for him and his wife, Denise.
“By no means are we rich, but we’ve been able to handle the health problems we’ve faced without going broke and that’s a testament to the system here,” Webb said. “Dr. (Scott) Matthews and his staff and the staff at Clearview (Cancer Institute) have always made sure our family was taken care of. I think things have also been better since the two hospitals came together.”
Decatur Morgan Hospital features four campuses and services patients throughout Decatur, Hartselle, Priceville and the surrounding areas. The Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation, established in 1983, works to provide funding for state-of-the-art technology, health care services and facility improvements. The foundation also offers scholarships and hosts several high-profile public events, including its annual Gala and the popular Dragon Boat Race.
Economically, the hospital employs approximately 1,300 doctors, nurses, technicians and staff. It is one of the largest employers in Morgan County.
Outside of the hospital system, Decatur is equipped with practitioners of nearly every medical field, dentists who provide affordable, quality care and urgent care clinics that provide walk-in services for those who may not have regular or family doctors.
“One thing that makes this area so attractive is the availability of health services,” said Adam Hallmark, a Huntsville native who recently moved his family to Decatur. “The pediatric care is very good, and we’ve always been able to get into a walk-in clinic during weekends or after regular office hours. Those things are important for families like ours. When issues pop up, we like knowing we can have them taken care of.”
$50 million investment
Decatur Morgan Hospital has benefited from a recent $50 million investment the Huntsville Hospital system has made in its facilities.
One project included moving all of its OB-GYN services in Decatur to the Somerville Road campus. That effort was completed late last year.
“Everything for women’s health care is in one location,” said Marie Burgess, director of labor and delivery, who worked at the Decatur Morgan and Parkway campuses.
She said the renovated area has the newest equipment available, including a panda warmer system — used to monitor vitals and regulate the temperature of infants immediately after birth — and technology that allows doctors to monitor patients from their office or from home.
In addition to a modern nursery, the area has 11 labor and delivery rooms that are equipped with advanced technology and 49 employees to assure that every mother gets one-to-one care.
Two floors that were renovated as part of the Huntsville Hospital investment provide obstetrics and gynecological services, and a third floor is where patients come for appointments with a team of OB-GYN physicians that work for the hospital.
Another transformation funded by the Huntsville Hospital investment involves renovations to the emergency room at Decatur Morgan Hospital.
The project doubled emergency room space, increased the number of rooms in the emergency department from 22 to 35 and added a centralized nursing station that allows emergency officials to more closely monitor and respond to patients.
“This is like a mini hospital within a hospital,” said Carrie Wynn, director of emergency services.
Decatur Morgan Hospital President Nat Richardson said the hospital added four psychiatric units equipped with video cameras. This change offers privacy for patients with mental issues who may need to be segregated, he said.
Some of the changes Decatur Morgan made in the emergency department came after a series of meetings with patients, hospital board members and staff, local elected officials and community representatives, Richardson said.
“They said we needed a more effective emergency cycle at Decatur Morgan and we listened,” he said.
Another recent addition to Decatur Morgan is an $800,000, privately funded project that improved treatment and patient comfort at Decatur Morgan Hospital’s Breast Health Center.
The project included a 3D mammography machine that helps doctors better detect lumps, tumors and other abnormalities during breast exams, said Noel Lovelace, president of the Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation.
The foundation, Junior League of Morgan County and Power of Pink Walk that honors Decatur teacher Lee Lott raised money to purchase the 3D mammography machine and pay for renovations in the Breast Health Center.
Richardson, who has a medical background in radiology, said 3D mammography provides “deeper tissue details,”
“This is the best you can get,” he said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a 3D mammogram is an imaging test that combines multiple breast X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the breast and can be used to investigate the cause of breast problems, such as a breast mass or breast pain.
Lovelace said the cost of the machine was about $350,000 and additional money was used for renovations and to move ultrasound and stereotactic biopsy services to the same area in the hospital.
A stereotactic breast biopsy is a procedure that uses mammography to precisely identify and biopsy an abnormality within the breast, she said.
“We’ve had all of these services, but they were in different areas of the hospital,” Lovelace said. “Now, instead of having patients go to the surgeons, the surgeons come to where the patients are.”