The University of South Alabama Medical Center will receive $4 million from an economic development bond issue to renovate and expand its Level 1 trauma center — the only one of its kind in the region. According to hospital administrator Sam Dean, the expansion will take the current facility from 11,000 square feet to about 27,000 square feet, adding an additional 20 beds to the existing 22 beds, and incorporating critical services not currently housed in the emergency room. The project will also add four new large trauma bays — each twice the size of the existing two — ensuring the hospital has the “capacity to handle mass casualty events.”
“Currently the hospital suffers from a diversion issue due to the size of the trauma center as well as other things,” Dean said during a news conference today. “So the goal of this project will make sure this hospital is no longer on diversion and is available to provide Level I care when needed throughout the region.”
Gov. Kay Ivey was on hand to present a ceremonial check drawn from the state’s Community Development Block Grant program. The $4 million contribution will probably pay for more than half of the total project, Dean said, noting final costs have not been fixed and timeline for the project has not been set.
According to a news release, as a state-certified Level 1 Trauma and Burn Center, USA Medical Center serves as the major referral center for patients with traumatic injuries from southern Alabama, southeast Mississippi and portions of northwest Florida. Last year alone, USA Medical Center served patients in 53 counties. The Medical Center’s designated trauma team — which includes around-the-clock trauma surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons and neurosurgeons — treats an average of five critically injured patients a day, which is more than 1,700 people each year.
Ivey was in Mobile as part of her statewide “Listen, Learn, Help, & Lead Tour,” the objective of which is unclear. Ascending to the governor’s office earlier this year after Robert Bentley’s resignation, Ivey has yet to announce whether she’ll run for office when her term expires in 2018.
She also visited the APM container terminal at the Port of Mobile, a new mixed-used development under construction in downtown Mobile, and held a roundtable discussion with local leaders at the GulfQuest Maritime Muesuem.
There, when WKRG reporter Emily DeVoe asked Ivey about the progress on the proposed Interstate 10 bridge, Press Secretary Daniel Sparkman abruptly ordered all media out of the room. Afterwards, Ivey’s Communications Director Joshua Pendergrass said media were only invited to the round table event as “observers,” and had been informed beforehand that questions wouldn’t be taken “to allow local participants to speak to the governor for her to hear directly from them.”One potential gubernatorial candidate, State Sen. Bill Hightower, who has filed campaign paperwork with the Alabama Secretary of State, said he was “delighted” with Ivey’s visit, noting his father Dr. Billy Hightower helped establish the open heart surgery center at USA Medical Center.
“She tied the announcement to the need to invest in infrastructure, and like a highway, a Level 1 trauma center is crucial to attracting new businesses and industry,” Hightower said.
Speaking of his own unofficial campaign, which has raised close to $450,000 as of July 31, Hightower said he’s been “very encouraged” by the financial support.
“I’ve been moving throughout the state talking to leaders and people about what’s important and I’ve been delighted about how they’ve responded and I think [the money] is a measure of their interest,” he said.
Jason Johnson contributed to this report.
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