TRUSSVILLE – Ascension St. Vincent’s celebrated the groundbreaking of a new freestanding emergency department Thursday in Trussville.

The facility will include 12 treatment rooms, an onsite lab and imaging, a helipad and emergency care for all ages. Officials with the health care system hope to not only expand the Trussville facility in the future but also expand those services to other areas throughout the region.

Christopher Dodson, director of Business Development for Ascension St. Vincent’s, said there is a real need for these types of facilities across the state.

“Especially because of the COVID pandemic, we saw such a need for people to seek care close to home and not have to go the hospital unless they really needed to,” said Dodson. “So, the cool thing about a freestanding emergency department is it’s a hospital-level of care but really close to where you live, and that’s the need we are trying to fill.”

Since the onset of COVID-19, ambulance services have been strained and sometimes unable to respond to emergencies. They are often forced to stay with patients outside overcrowded emergency rooms where beds are unavailable.

Jefferson County commissioner Joe Knight said the reach would be much greater than just the immediate area of Trussville.

“The good thing about something like this is with the ambulance issues we have, this reduces the [wait] time,” said Knight. “Put them in here, get them ready, get the ambulance back on the road and in service.”

Rural health care needs

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Photo: Erica Thomas.

Over the past 10 years, more than 163 hospitals have closed across the country, and 11 of them were in Alabama. Rural hospitals remain at risk of being shut down, and Dodson said freestanding emergency departments could be the answer to connect people with the care they need.

“Our goal as we continue to expand into communities like Trussville is to get into communities that don’t have access close to home,” explained Dodson.

Certificate of Need

Ascension St. Vincent has a development in progress in the city of Pelham as well. Officials are currently going through the Certificate of Need (CON) board to get clearance for that project.

The state of Alabama has required CON approval since 1979. Unlike other businesses, health care facilities must go through a process that often prolongs the time between the idea for a new facility and actually breaking ground. The board is set up to review the market in which these facilities are being built and has the ability to deny a certificate.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) was at the Ascension St. Vincent’s groundbreaking Thursday. He said he has spoken to other lawmakers in the past about concerns with the CON program. Garrett said he would like to look into those concerns to address a program that is likely outdated. But for now, he said this facility would benefit his district for years to come.

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Photo: Erica Thomas.

“This will be a tremendous service for our district to have this freestanding ER facility here,” said Garrett. “Our population has grown; we have growth in our hospitals nearby, but we also need to have facilities like this. … This will make access to healthcare easier for our people, and it’s a very good thing. We welcome them here.”

Construction on the $20 million facility, off Green Drive in Trussville, is set to begin in November. Ascension St. Vincent’s operates five hospitals and several other facilities across the region.

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