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Company not making enough to fund new Moulton hospital by ’10

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

MOULTON — Attentus Healthcare isn’t making enough money from operations at the Lawrence Medical Center to start construction of a new Moulton hospital by 2010, said Hospital Authority Board Chairman Neal Norwood.

Failure to meet that deadline in its agreement with the county could trigger a requirement that Attentus extend its lease on the existing hospital for 20 years at an upfront cost of $6 million in 2010.

The Hospital Authority Board leased the present hospital to Attentus in January 2005 for $1.45 million for five years, with the condition that Attentus would start construction on a new facility during that time.

Lawrence County purchased 28 acres near Alabama Highways 24 and 157 in August 2005 for Attentus to build a hospital.

Barry Keel, who was then chief executive officer of Lawrence Medical Center, said construction would begin within six to 12 months.

But JLL Investment Co. of New York, which handles the Attentus account, has said the current hospital isn’t bringing in enough revenue to justify spending $25 million to $30 million on a new facility, said Norwood.

“The holdup is simply that the dollars aren’t there,” he said. “They saw the figures and said they couldn’t build with that amount of money.”

Lawrence Medical Center made $700,000 for Attentus last year, he said.

“(The new hospital) is not out of the question, but Attentus has got to be making more money than that,” he said.

Attentus could not be reached for comment.

Norwood said the key to raising profits could be to increase services offered at the hospital so Lawrence County residents don’t have to travel to other counties for treatment.

Lawrence Medical Center CEO Tom Dunning is trying to recruit specialists who could generate more revenue.

“There’s just not enough doctors around here. You can’t even get a family doctor in Moulton that’s not booked up,” Norwood said.

“Tom’s trying to get more doctors, but not so much that it hurts the practice of the doctors we have now. The more we can get, the more patients we can handle. That’s good for us, and that’s good for Attentus.”

Dunning has already recruited an orthopedic surgeon from Florence and an oncologist group from Decatur to work in the center part time, said Norwood.

“Tom is doing a super job,” said Norwood. “... We’re going to get a new hospital. It’s just not as soon as we wanted it to be.”

Attentus’ lease agreement with the county states that, if Attentus fails to construct the hospital for any reason other than inability to get state approval, the Hospital Authority will have the option to extend the lease of the existing facility for 20 years and require Attentus to pay a $6 million extension price.

Norwood said the authority is more likely to renegotiate the contract than to force an extension on Attentus.

“We’d rather renegotiate the lease, let them keep paying and eventually get a new hospital than to have to change companies,” he said. “... If push came to shove, we could take the hospital back and run it ourselves, but we don’t want to have to do that.”

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