EAMC to invest $3.5 million at Lanier in 2022

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

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EAMC-Lanier Executive Vice President/Administrator Greg Nichols updated the Chambers County Commission during the Monday evening meeting.

“I hope that soon I’ll be able to stand here and not discuss COVID,” Nichols opened. “But, I’m sorry, today is not that day.”

Nichols talked about the five waves of COVID EAMC endured over the past two years since their first patient on March 19, 2020, and its toll on the health system and its employees.

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“Hopefully, this is our last one [wave],” Nichols said. “One day, we had over 100 patients in the hospital with COVID – which was a high for us. I am very grateful that with the Omicron variant that we had, people were not as sick. They did not stay as long as they did with the Delta variant back last fall but still just an incredible burden on the hospital. Our employees, our nurses, our providers, everyone’s just tired. Financially, it’s taken a toll on us as a hospital, as we’ve had to curtail services, especially some of our outpatient surgery that we do, some of our outpatient services. And so we’re trying to still recover from that. ”

Since Nichols last spoke to the commission in April, EAMC has administered over 167,000 COVID tests, over 90,000 vaccines and over 4,000 monoclonal antibody infusions that Nichols says leads the state of Alabama.

Over that time, Nichols said, between the main campus in Opelika and Lanier, the system had over 2,500 admissions to the hospitals, with 551 of those being Chambers County residents.

“So, we’ve taken care of a lot of people from Chambers County, and I’m very grateful for our nurses and our physicians,” he said. “You know, when we look back at COVID, one of the things that when I think of a word that really describes our organization here at this time, would be persistence and determination – I guess that is two words – but, we have been very determined to get through this. And we’re persistent in the care that we provided.”

Moving forward from COVID, Nichols says EAMC is looking toward what the future holds. EAMC built a freestanding emergency department in Auburn, moving the total of fully staffed 24/7 emergency departments to three within the health system.

Nichols says the need for an expanded ICU at the main campus in Opelika was something EAMC learned during the COVID pandemic. While it does not directly impact EAMC-Lanier, Nichols says it does provide a benefit to Chambers County.

“One of the things that we found during COVID was that people are getting sicker and sicker, and there’s a need for critical care beds,” Nichols explained. “We’re going to add on two more floors to our ICU and expand 40 beds [at the main campus], there. We’re seeking the state approval, and we should have that in a couple of months. And, once that happens, we’ll get started on that.”

In the last year, EAMC brought in 41 new physicians that, Nichols says, was incredible given what the medical community was facing with COVID.

Another significant improvement that will help EAMC build for the future was the inception of an internal medicine residency program where physicians will come to train and hopefully continue working within the health system.

“So we’re training doctors now,” Nichols said. “And, we have nine in this cohort and then each year, we’ll be adding seven more. And one of the things that we have found is that most physicians, they like to stay where they did residency. So that’s preparing us for the future with that internal medicine residency program.”

At Lanier, Nichols says they are near completion of an $8 million infrastructure project to replace chillers, generators, controls, pumps and cooling towers that were nearing the end of their life cycle.

EAMC has started a renovation project at the nursing home that will cost approximately $153,000 and will take nearly three years to complete, Nichols said.

“We move residents out, we’ll go in and gut, renovate that part of the nursing home, about six or seven rooms at a time,” Nichols said. “And then we’ll move residents back in there and keep going through. But, our residents deserve the very best facilities that we can offer them.”

Nichols says that none of this could be possible without the ad valorem tax dollars the system receives from Chambers County.

“[In] fiscal year 2021, we received $1.4 million,” Nichols said. “So far this year, for the fiscal year 2022, we received $1.37 million and so since this program began, we have received $10.2 million in ad valorem tax, and we’re so grateful for that, that’s enabled us to do a lot.”

In 2021, EAMC invested $2.5 million in the Lanier campus, mainly for the renovation of the Geriatric Center.

In fiscal year 2022, Nichols says EAMC plans to invest another $3.5 million just at the Lanier campus. That number does not account for the $8 million infrastructure upgrades.

“What I want you to know is that East Alabama Health is committed to the people of Chambers County,” Nichols assured the commission. “When we do our planning, we want to focus on Chambers County. We include all residents of Chambers County. We allocate resources in the funds that we have as an organization, capital funds, operational funds — we make sure that we’re including Chambers County.”