Do hospitals count as infrastructure critical to economic development? Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey argued Wednesday that the answer is yes – and she put some money on it, with a $4 million grant to help expand the emergency department at USA Medical Center.
Ivey made several stops in Mobile on Wednesday as part of her ongoing “Listen, Learn, Help, & Lead Tour.” Ivey said Wednesday the point of the tour was to take in perspectives from outside “the statehouse bubble.” Stops included the APM Terminals container facility at the Port of Mobile and the Merchants Bank building, a site where she formerly worked and which is now being converted to apartments.
At USA Medical Center, she was welcomed by USA President Dr. Tony Waldrop, who said that having certain medical assets in Mobile – such as the Level 1 Trauma Center at USAMC and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital – was essential to the area’s efforts to attract companies such as Airbus and Amazon.
“We know that many businesses would not have located here if there was not that capacity” he said.
Ivey said that infrastructure had been “at the top of the list” of concerns she’d heard during her tour.
“I recognize the need to invest in hospitals because they too are part of our infrastructure,” she said. “The USA Medical Center is key to economic development.”
USAMC Administrator Sam Dean said that the $4 million will cover “more than half” of the expected cost of planned upgrades to the emergency department. He said the total cost and timeline are still being evaluated.
The project will dramatically expand the department, Dean said, taking it from 11,000 square feet to 27,000. It’ll add 20 new beds to the current 22; put new critical imaging equipment within the department; and provide four new trauma bays larger than the current two, vastly improving the hospital’s ability to handle mass-casualty events.
Dean said that USAMC already has a world-class staff and the project will give them a facility of the same caliber.
Among the benefits for patients, Dean said, is that the greater capacity will cut down on the number of times when USAMC has to divert patients to other hospitals. “Currently the hospital suffers from a diversion issue due to the size of the trauma center as well as other things,” he said.
Responding to a question from Ala. Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, he said it should also mean faster handling for all emergency patients, not just those with severe traumas. “Once this project is done, we’ll be able to provide an average wait time of less than 30 minutes in the E.R. Which will be exceptional,” he said.
According to information provided by USA, the $4 million grant comes from an economic development bond issue. Asked if the state was willing to direct economic development money to other medical facilities or whether she considered this a special case, Ivey seemed to lean toward the latter. USAMC’s status as a Level 1 trauma center made it “a little unique,” she said.