Officials still undecided on new hospital location

The projected image of the new regional medical center.

Ongoing discussions as to where the new RegionalCare medical center location will be have taken place during the past few weeks and members of the UNA community believe the location will greatly impact students.

The new 550,000-square-foot regional medical center, which could be located in either Lauderdale or Colbert counties, will consume 80 acres of land and cost $250 million. Chief Executive Officer Ross Berry with Shoals Hospital said the center will create approximately 4,500 new jobs during the construction of the hospital, and continue retention of those jobs during the first 5-7 years of its opening.

Berry said officials have to meet several criteria in order to secure a location for the new hospital, including finding 80 acres of land, a four-lane highway, whether it will be passed by the Environmental Protection Agency and more.

No matter its location, the new regional medical center will offer a larger variety of doctors, including specialists and non-specialists, for UNA students and members of the Shoals community.

Berry said students who need emergency services will be able to use the new regional medical center in the Shoals instead of going to Huntsville for treatment.

Although UNA has a health center on campus, the center does not have extended hours or emergency room operations. The Health and Wellness Center on campus offers a variety of services to students, including the treatment of short-term illnesses, treatment of minor injuries, referrals to specialists, basic physical exams and many other services.

“UNA students have an excellent and comprehensive student health center on campus that provides a lot of things that most universities do not provide,” said David Shields, vice president for student affairs. “On campus, we are fortunate we have an excellent and dynamic staff; however we have a hospital less than a mile from our campus.”

Right now, Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital is a few blocks from campus, and having it further from the university will create issues for students, Shields said.

“I think having a hospital far from the campus creates problems for our students,” Shields said. “It’s not a far distance, it just creates some challenges.”

Shields said the distance at any other location not only creates issues for students, but it can also keep them from seeking additional treatment.

“If students are referred (to a hospital that is far from campus), the distance can keep them from going there,” he said.

Shields said the largest group of students that will suffer from the hospital possibly being further from campus will be the international students that attend UNA.

“(Most international students) don’t have cars,” he said. “It’s going to create a challenge for us, for our students and its going to create a significant challenge for our international students.”

Shields said the location of the hospital would acutely affect the international students on campus.

“It’s the after hours, emergency type things where we are going to see the most challenges,” Shields said.