Story’s a lot different from the ‘other side’
Mike Brown

I started working full-time for this newspaper in June of 1974. Six months later I covered my first of many grand opening events.

It was for brand new Richards Memorial Hospital. This community sure was proud of it. I remember wandering around inside like a kid in a candy store, taking photos before anyone ever used the various areas the way they were intended.

The hospital and I grew older together. A lot older.

Administrators came and went. So did crises. There have been three huge ones, all over financial situations so complex I had to practically learn a new set of mathematical and accounting disciplines to even be able to write sensibly about it. Which I hope I did.

Each time RMH survived. Each time it was through the efforts of a tremendous number of dedicated people in this community who simply refused to let their hospital shut down.

I saw RMH primarily as a part of my job, covering not only the crises but also the more routine news it made over the past 40 years, health fairs, board meetings, donations, scholarships, new physicians, new equipment, new health care disciplines.

Art by Tiffany Turpen, a junior at Rockdale High School. Art by Tiffany Turpen, a junior at Rockdale High School. I live four blocks away. We were comfortable together.

Then, six weeks ago, my wife found me unconscious on our bathroom floor at 4 in the morning.

And my perception of the hospital changed.

They took me there in an ambulance, also a first for me. I’d taken many photos of ambulances over the past 40 years but this time I was on the inside looking out.

It was a continuing heart problem I thought I’d had under control. I was wrong.

When they got me to the ER—that’s hospital lingo for “emergency room”— my heartbeat was in the 30s and I was so cold they couldn’t get my temperature.

The ER staff warmed me, quickly diagnosed the problems, administered medications to stabilize my condition and cared for me.

They took care of my wife. By doing that they also cared for me with more than just medicine.

I was admitted. I didn’t have to ask for big-city cardiologists because I was already seeing one, someone who provides services here, under the huge and first rate “umbrella” of specialists who practice in Rockdale on a weekly basis. They are “plugged in” to an Austin institute which is quite literally one of the world’s leading providers of care for my particular heart problem.

I was operated on there in late January. Story to be continued.

I literally had this thought in the ambulance that cold early December morning.

“I’ve heard people over the years smugly proclaim they won’t use our hospital. But I’m sure glad it’s here.”

In fact, many of RMH’s financial problems, especially early on, were caused by people who simply wouldn’t use it, would run off to the big cities for a hangnail.

I remember sitting in the office of the late attorney Emory C. Camp, longtime hospital authority board chair and a man who fought tirelessly, and successfully, to keep RMH open.

He’d shake his head and look at me. “Mike,” he’d say. “If people just knew how good this place was they’d use it more and we wouldn’t have to worry about this.”

I knew then, intellectually, that he was right. Now, I just plain know it.

The health care industry is in Rockdale to stay. It’s going to get bigger and be a huge player in our post-Alcoa future.

My old friend, RMH, sure looks different from this side of the story.

It, and I, have some miles to go yet. A lot of them.

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2014-02-06 digital edition

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