Change of heart: Baptist, Brookwood end legal battle

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A truce between Brookwood and Shelby Baptist medical centers appears to have cleared the way for the open-heart program at the Alabaster hospital.

Officials from both sides announced the agreement last week after a long, complicated struggle between the two health care providers related to the open-heart program at Baptist Shelby, which was started in August 2004.

Hospital officials did not release details of the agreement, citing a confidentiality clause, but they did confirm the signing of a letter of intent. A final settlement is expected by the end of the week.

The deal involves each hospital dropping legal opposition to the other&8217;s ventures, allowing Baptist Shelby to keep its open-heart program and Brookwood to proceed with its planned $54 million renovation and expansion project.

&8220;It has been a long, hard road,&8221; said Scott Williams, interim president and chief operating officer at Baptist Shelby.

&8220;We have been working on this since 2000. I think the biggest thing is that we would not have been successful if not for the support of the citizens of Shelby County, Chilton County and Bibb County.&8221;

The agreement comes on the heels of a massive marketing campaign by Baptist Shelby, which generated some 2,500 letters of support and resolutions from every municipality in the county.

Williams said negotiations had already begun before the campaign was launched but noted the importance of the hospital&8217;s use of prime-time television commercials and full-page newspaper advertisements to &8220;let the public know the facts.&8221;

The fate of local cardiac care being determined by the courts was largely perplexing to the residents of Shelby County, who responded to the hospital&8217;s call with a groundswell of support.

Shelby County resident Emily Fulmer wrote a letter used in an advertisement by Baptist Shelby.

&8220;Leave the lawyers out of it, and let the patients decide where they want to have surgery,&8221; she wrote.

But prior to Friday&8217;s announcement, it wasn&8217;t that simple.

A certificate of need from the State Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA) is required to provide cardiac care such as open-heart surgery and artery-opening stent procedures.

Baptist Shelby was originally granted a certificate for its open-heart program, but Brookwood and its parent company, Tenet Healthcare, took legal action to fight the award, based on the argument that Baptist Shelby&8217;s program would dilute open-heart services already offered in the area.

SHPDA sided with Brookwood on the matter and when the state court of civil appeals denied a request to reconsider its decision, Baptist Shelby prepared to take the matter to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The freshly reached agreement between Baptist Shelby and Brookwood will end the legal battle, according to hospital representatives, allowing Baptist Shelby to continue to be the closest open-heart surgery provider for residents of Shelby, Chilton and Bibb counties.

&8220;Having an open-heart program here in Alabaster is critically important for this area,&8221; he said.

Plans are under way for $39 million of improvements at Baptist Shelby during the next five years, including strengthening the open-heart program, Williams said