CLINTON — Ten months after it was shut down by the private company managing it, Clinton Regional Hospital is reopening today with a board made up of local residents overseeing its operations.
Having a hospital in Clinton means residents in the Custer County city and surrounding communities won’t have to drive about 20 miles for emergency room care and some other services.
“It’s wonderful,” said Bonnie Daugherty, who lives near Arapaho, which sits about five miles north of Clinton. “It was a sad day when it closed. I am so glad they were able to get it back open as quickly as they have. It’s been hard. People have had to go out of town for ER visits.”
Daugherty herself experienced how unsettling it is to travel more than 20 miles to receive emergency care when she needed to be taken last month to the Weatherford hospital’s after she sustained a concussion and a large cut on her head.
“I would have much rather preferred to come down here,” she said.
Clinton Regional Hospital is set to reopen today with an emergency room, radiology access and laboratory services, said Len Lacefield, the hospital’s CEO. Other types of care, such as outpatient surgery, a sleep lab and therapy services are on pace to be added in 2024, he said.
Lacefield is completing his first month at Clinton Regional Hospital. He has more than 30 years of service in the health care field, spending the past nine years as CEO of the Chickasha-based Southern Plains Medical Group, which operates seven clinics and hospitals. During his time there, Lacefield reopened the Pauls Valley hospital in 2021.
Clinton Regional Hospital is licensed for 22 beds, a fraction of its past capacity. The hospital previously had 56 beds and, at one time, employed 200 people.
“Our goal is going to be to serve in a way that is professional and correct — the right thing to do,” Lacefield said. “With the staff we have, our patient outcomes will be as good as it gets.”
Lacefield said the one-story, 93,000 square-foot hospital will reopen with 29 employees, some of whom worked for the hospital before.
The next step is for the hospital to be surveyed by an accreditation organization to reinstitute the hospital’s credentialing with Medicare, which Lacefield said should occur about the third week of November. The survey could lead to certification by or complete enrollment with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“This is an amazing community,” Lacefield said. “The board is unbelievable.”
An urgent care clinic, which opened in March by Carrus Health in a building south of the hospital, is scheduled to close Wednesday.
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Residents given opportunity to tour hospital
Residents of the Clinton area were able to get a look at the reopening hospital during a reception and groundbreaking ceremony Friday. Hospital staff gave tours, and department heads explained machines and equipment to dozens of residents.
“It never should have been shut down a year ago,” said Thomas Jennings, of Clinton, whose wife, Brenda, works at the hospital as director of infection control and employee health. “This is a big day for Clinton.”
Sherry Touchstone, of Arapaho, said she and her husband went to the urgent care clinic in Clinton twice this year, but both times they were referred to Weatherford Regional Hospital, a critical access hospital about 20 miles east on Interstate 40.
Touchstone said she moved to Clinton in 1971. Her first child was born in the old hospital, and another child was born in 1978 at Clinton Regional Hospital. While the reopening hospital will not have obstetric services at this time, Touchstone and others said what is returning will improve overall health care access in town.
“The (hospital) board has done a good job,” she said. “They’ve done a hard job to get it back open again.”
She said she is glad the hospital is back under local control.
“Corporates can’t run anything, I don’t think, like local people do,” Touchstone said.
Sean Stephens, publisher of the Clinton Daily News, said the hospital’s reopening is reinvigorating for the Clinton community.
“A rural community without a hospital has less of a sense of identity,” he said. “When it comes to having access to quality health care, we do have some facilities in areas around us that offer that as well, but when it comes to your life-saving measures, this is where it’s so pivotal and so crucial.”
Stephens said it’s essential for Clinton to have a hospital not only for providing health care but to help with its economy.
“Good luck trying to attract businesses without a hospital in your backyard,” he said. “The benefits of this are just almost immeasurable.”
An overwhelming vote of the people
AllianceHealth closed Clinton Regional Hospital on Dec. 31. But instead of transferring state and federal licenses to the city of Clinton as previous operators had done, the company canceled the permits. Reapplication for those licenses took additional time and also required the city to spend millions of dollars on upgrades to the hospital, which was built in 1973.
The city didn’t have that type of cash available. However, when the hospital was built, the city of Clinton operated it, and a fund was established to pay for long-term needs. The fund started out with about $6 million in it, but interest and revenue over the years increased the balance to $11.6 million.
To access money from that fund to reopen the hospital, the Clinton Hospital Authority, comprised then of Clinton City Council members, had to receive approval from voters.
In March, voters demonstrated how much they valued having a local hospital by giving near-unanimous support for a proposal to authorize use of the $11.6 million to reopen Clinton Regional Hospital. The vote passed 1,221 to 81 — or 93.7 percent support — in Clinton, a city of about 8,600 people about 90 minutes west of Oklahoma City.
Failure of the issue would have functionally kept the hospital closed, forcing residents to continue driving to the Weatherford hospital about 15 minutes to the east along I-40. A federal Indian Health Services clinic on the east edge of Clinton also provides significant access to a variety of health services for Indigenous residents.
Since the March vote, the Clinton Hospital Authority has been reformed, with most of the members of a hospital advisory board replacing Clinton City Council members, and the body made upgrades to the hospital building and bought equipment. The 93,000-square-foot hospital has undergone repairs, rooms have been upgraded, and supplies and equipment have been purchased. When the company left, AllianceHealth took computers and a lot of medical equipment that required replacements and upgrades.
The licensing process with the Oklahoma State Department of Health took longer than local leaders had hoped expected because AllianceHealth not only terminated the Medicare agreement and state license but did not cooperate with the CHA to transfer the license. As a result, it took longer to clarify whether the hospital could be licensed as is or would require millions of dollars in updates to comply with provisions of newer facilities.
As the hospital reopens, however, limited care offerings and a small provider base could pose challenges for longterm sustainability. Lacefield said about $6 million remains in the city’s hospital fund, which can be used to support the redevelopment of revenue streams. By the middle of next year, Lacefield said it is projected that hospital revenue should be sufficient so that the fund won’t be needed to pay for operations.
“We have no debt,” Lacefield said.
Clinton operated its hospital for the first 25 years of its existence, but then the city hired outside operators. Different private companies operated the hospital the past 12 years.
AllianceHealth, which at one time operated several hospitals in Oklahoma, has been shrinking its footprint in the state. In 2020, the company relinquished operations of the Midwest City hospital. Last year, it ended its operations of a medical facility in Seminole and announced it would not renew the lease for the hospital in Woodward when it expires Nov. 30, 2023.
Since then, INTEGRIS Health has announced it is acquiring operations of the Woodward hospital, as well as taking over the Ponca City hospital from AllianceHealth.