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Gerita Rye: It was so hard. A lot of people, they have children. It's coming up on Christmas. It's looking like December the 31st, they're not going to have a job anymore. And what do you do?
Host: That's Gerita Rye, the director of safety, marketing, and physician recruitment and executive assistant at Lakeland Hospital. Gerita has been an employee of Lakeland for eight years and had an up close and personal look last November when the hospital announced it would be closing. In this episode, Gerita discusses the impact the closure of Lakeland would have had on Haleyville and describes the community's dedication to reviving the hospital.
Gerita: Communities came together. The community was just amazing. Churches were having prayer. And it was just a wonderful camaraderie of people.
Host: This is Health IT on the Record, presented by MEDHOST, a show that explores how innovations in health information technology impact every aspect of a health system, from multi-hospital networks down to individual patients. In a moment, you'll hear Gerita take us through the progress the hospital has made since last November. Not only have they been able to keep Lakeland open, they've also been able to expand their services by bringing in new specialists. Enjoy the conversation.
Gerita: Hello, my name is Gerita Rye. I have been at Lakeland Community Hospital for seven years. I'm the director of safety, marketing, physician recruitment, and executive assistant.
Host: They keep you pretty busy. You're a pretty busy person here.
Gerita: Yes, I am. I'm very busy.
Host: Well, our goal here is just to hear a little bit more about the story of this hospital, kind of the journey that it's been on. And I'm really excited to talk with you because you've been in Haleyville a long time.
Gerita: Yes. All my life.
Host: And you've been here, you said it's been eight years and coming up soon. So, yeah, let's just kind of drop me right here into the storyline of when was it – you love your job. You're here at the hospital. You find out that things are going to maybe change pretty drastically. Can you take me back to that, and then let's just kind of take some steps forward and kind of get to the point we're at today where it's kind of moved along and kind of been saved?
Gerita: On November the 17th, we were called into the CEO's office.
Host: And who is we?
Gerita: It was the administrative team. And we were called in there and –
Host: And did you have any idea what's going on?
Gerita: No. No idea at all. We were told that Lakeland would be closing December the 31st at midnight. So, of course, devastated. Shocked. Then we left there and called a directors' meeting. Everyone came into the boardroom.
Host: Is this the boardroom right now?
Host: So we are surrounded by just your classic boardroom. So they're all in here. Okay.
Gerita: Yes. Walked in. And they proceeded to tell everyone that we would be closing. And many tears started flowing. Some people have been here like 40 years. They've been here since the hospital opened. We've got a couple of employees that's been here that long.
Host: It's been 50 years, right? 50 years ago.
Gerita: Yeah. It was 1969.
Host: 1969. So how old were you at the time?
Gerita: Nine years old.
Host: So this certainly has been – this is like the community. This is it.
Gerita: Yeah. I mean, I don't ever remember the hospital not being here. Never.
Host: Wow. And when you just think about not only delivering care to generations but also jobs and if there's economic impact there, anything else that you can kind of think on that just, the role that this place has been in the community?
Gerita: Oh, well, like you said, our people and our community would had to have went 30 miles either way for care. In some situations, you're not going to make it that far. I mean, you're not going to make it that far. And the economic impact would have been devastating. You need good schools and a hospital to bring in economy, industries. And we have a wonderful school, and we have a wonderful hospital. But without that, that one piece, it would have been devastating to our economy.
Host: That certainly reminds me, we had a chance to meet the mayor, and kind of hear the story from him. And I think he definitely is echoing that same thing. If you want to have a good city, good future, you gotta have that. So, okay, you're in the boardroom, where we're in right now. And it's an emotional time. It's a surprising time. So what happens next?
Gerita: Everybody, of course, was devastated. And I think there was more camaraderie that, "We can't let this happen." I think that that was the gist of most everybody that was in the room after the initial shock got over. And so we just said, "We just can't let this happen."
Host: Is it possible that – I mean, I might be reaching here. And that's okay, and you can call me out on it. But I've been learning, just while we've been here today, kind of visiting around the city and kind of learning about the 911 history, the first 911 call made here, what, 50 years ago, I think. And there's a lot of history here with just a people that are very determined. Right? So can you speak to that at all?
Gerita: Yes. We are very diligent in our beliefs. I think Winston County people are just very – they're true.
Host: There's a history there too, right? How does that go?
Gerita: Winston County is just a very true-to-your-beliefs bunch of people.
Host: Okay. As you were explaining it, I can kind of see the fire in your eye kind of coming – saying how it is. So, really, now we're in a group of people and they're saying, "We're not going to let this happen." But you only have, seriously, a couple of weeks. So let's pick up where the story is right there. So what's happening next?
Gerita: Yes. So I think it was two days later. The mayor called a City Council meeting because he knew nothing about this. Nothing.
Host: And, really, no one did, right?
Gerita: No. And so he called a City Council meeting. The community all came together and met and said, "What can we do?" And he had already started working on it. He worked day and night on the project. I mean, he just worked so hard to get it all together. It was amazing.
Host: Kind of in the midst of all this. So the countdown has begun. So there's a few things we wanted to touch on. So I know there's something about a Christmas board that was here at the hospital. There's meetings. There's people coming together. You just mentioned the mayor. There's some City Council meetings that we'll talk about. But start with the Christmas board. What's the story behind there?
Gerita: Probably, it was one day the next week. I had went upstairs and on the third floor, med-surg. And when I got off the elevator, looking right directly at you when you get off the elevator is a bulletin board. And the nurses had put together a bulletin board that said, "All we want for Christmas is to keep our hospital open." And it was very touching, I mean, because that's what we all wanted. They hit the nail on the head.
Host: Yeah, it's really moving. So I've heard you talk about this unforgettable second City Hall meeting. Can you kind of transport me to that moment?
Gerita: Okay. So we had a second City Hall meeting. And I was sitting there.
Host: And it's a packed room, right?
Gerita: Yeah, it's a packed room. And I was looking around, and I see this guy sitting there. And I asked my husband, I said, "Do you know who that guy is?" And he said, "No."
Host: For context, how many people live here?
Gerita: Like 4,000.
Host: You've been here all your life.
Host: So you kind of know everyone, pretty much.
Gerita: Right. Yes.
Host: Okay. So you're asking your husband, "Who is this guy?"
Gerita: Yeah. So I'm like, "Do you know who that guy is over there?" And he said, "No." And so I come to find out it was Bappa. It was who it was. And so I'm so glad that we have –
Host: And who is this?
Gerita: Bappa is with Java Medical. He is the CEO/President of Java Medical who manages Lakeland for the city of Haleyville.
Host: When did you meet him?
Gerita: I formally met him probably the third meeting, I guess it was.
Host: At the City Council meeting. Okay.
Gerita: Yes. I went up to him and introduced myself.
Host: What did you tell him? What do you say to him?
Gerita: Just, "I'm Gerita Rye. I work at the hospital."
Host: I do everything pretty much.
Gerita: And I had no idea, I mean, what they were planning or they were looking at doing. But I just sort of felt like I needed to introduce myself. And I thanked him for being there because any help was so much appreciated. We needed all the help we could get.
Host: Right. Yeah. And I kind of joke about it. You do a lot of different things here. We're going to get to that. Before we kind of get to the end of this story, we're going to return to talk about some of the different things that you do here and some of the things that you've learned along the way. There's not a lot of case studies out there on something like this. So we'll get to some of your lessons in a minute. So there's the City Hall Council meetings occurring. Now we're kind of in the midst of Thanksgiving. It's going into Christmas. So how do you describe what was happening here?
Gerita: Well, we were toast like six days before Thanksgiving. And it was so hard. A lot of people, they have children. It's coming up on Christmas. It's looking like December the 31st, they're not going to have a job anymore. And what do you do? And I myself did not have a small child, so I don't think it was as hard as far as that.
Host: You can to relate to it. Is that what you're saying?
Gerita: Yeah. You think about how in the world – it's awful. I would think it would be awful at any time of the year. But doing it at that time of the year was just really, really bad.
Host: Health IT on the Record is brought to you by MEDHOST. With over 30 years of experience partnering with providers nationwide, MEDHOST is helping evolve better solutions for healthcare management through innovative workflows and technologies. For more information, visit www.medhost.com. Let's jump back in.
Host: So as we're kind of moving along here, I've forgotten the time. When was it when you find out that the hospital was going to stay open?
Gerita: Okay. Probably the 1st of December, the mayor had pulled together – and it was amazing because at around Thanksgiving, you've got all these people that are taking off for the holidays. And we were six days before Thanksgiving. So he was trying to pull together all these people. And so probably the first week in December, we thought that they were going to be able to do something. He worked day and night on the project. Day and night.
Host: And speaking of day and night, you got a lot of people here staying day and night.
Host: So when you were talking earlier, people have small kids at home. They don't know what the future looks like, what Christmas will look like. They're here. Can you kind of tell me more about that because that's kind of unheard of, isn't it?
Gerita: Yes. It was just a very hard time. So many people were just working so hard. They had already cut our staff down, really down. And so I think there was a lot of people that were probably having to work more than what we should have been, I guess, you'd say.
Host: This entire story, it's been really moving to hear, especially from someone like yourself, born and raised here, to see what was going to potentially happen to close down the hospital. And for context, if a hospital closes, I mean, what's the likelihood that it will ever open again?
Gerita: There's not. Once the doors close, and this is older facility, and so it would never have been reopened. Never.
Host: So you start this story when the news broke to you in the CEO's office. And then you experience it with your friends and family, more or less, here in this conference room. We start this at a pretty devastating time. But if you're to kind of fast-forward into this Christmas miracle, how are you feeling? How do you see the energy of the people around you who work here at the hospital? Can you kind of just paint a picture with that?
Gerita: Of course, at first, we were all devastated and in shock. And then it was just like, "We can't let this happen." I mean, the communities came together. The community was just amazing. Churches were having prayer. And it was just a wonderful camaraderie of people. And we just kept our chins up. And it was wonderful when we got the news that we were going to stay open. Absolutely wonderful.
Host: Okay. And did they tell everybody at the same time or was it just news spread really quick?
Gerita: Oh, it spread really quick because everything that was going on about this hospital was spread really quick. Yeah.
Host: Wow. That is wonderful. I love that. So as we're starting to wrap up, we would certainly still love to hear from you. I know you wear several different hats here. You mentioned physician recruitment. I know you're carrying the message out into the community with marketing. So maybe starting with physician recruitment, which maybe one or two things that you've just experienced in a healthcare, rural community sense of things, when it comes to physician recruitment, what's the must-know things about that?
Gerita: Well, you have to have a hospital for the physicians who are practicing.
Host: Sorry. Right.
Gerita: And so if you don't have a hospital, then you're not going to recruit a physician. And since we have been open, recently we've recruited orthopedic surgeon. And he is coming here. We're currently recruiting a cardiologist. And we plan on doing many more services. Also, open up surgery again. And then on marketing, we are just trying to get our information out there, let everybody know that we're open. We're ready for business. And we are doing great and going to survive.
Host: I love it. And it's so special just to remember you as the little girl. You're seeing this hospital in the community for your friends, for your family. And here it is today. It's not going anywhere. You've survived that. And the future looks super bright from everyone we've talked to. And you can feel the energy. So we're just so thankful to hear your story. I am really eager to continue the conversation into the future. Thank you.
Gerita: Thank you.
Host: Thanks for listening to Health IT on the Record, presented by MEDHOST. For more stories and content like this, be sure to visit medhost.com/resources. Thanks.