Cullman Regional Medical Center has a number of initiatives planned for 2006 towards its goal of becoming the "leading community-based health care provider in the Southeast," president and CEO Jim Weidner told the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors Tuesday.

Weidner, the guest speaker at the last meeting of the 2005-2006 board, focused on plans for expansion and restructuring of the hospital's administration. The hospital would like to move to a "business units/service lines" concept of management, giving health care providers more voice in how their departments are run, he said.

For example, the cardiology department would be considered its own business unit, with an internal board of specialists in the field determining the best way to provide cardiology services.

"What that means is more consumer-driven health care," Weidner said. "It means decisions are not made by administrative types, they're made by the people who are actually delivering health care."

Those reforms are aimed at reducing the 37 percent "outmigration" of Cullman County residents who seek medical care outside the county, he said.

Weidner highlighted some of the top features of CRMC: orthopedic hip replacement services considered "five-star" within the industry, a Level II trauma center and Tier I stroke care.

CRMC has created a "Code Orange" protocol of treatment for stroke victims, coordinating lifesaving services within the short window doctors have to restore blood flow to prevent death or lasting injury.

"If we can administer clot-busting drugs within that window, that patient walks out of the ER," Weidner said.

While the hospital takes in $100 million in annual revenue, the health care industry demands large capital expenditures to maintain and raise the level of service, he said.

"Our industry gobbles up capital dollars," he said. "The community is growing rapidly, and it's a challenge for us to keep pace."

Spending $2 million a year would be the approximate baseline necessary simply to replace and maintain expensive equipment.

CRMC costs $11,000 an hour to run, he said. Weidner estimated the value of the hospital's service to the community, including uncompensated care for indigent patients and economic growth related to the hospital and its employees, at $300 million annually.

In other business, Chamber President Kirk Mancer announced results from the first annual Business Climate Survey.

With 125 responses from area business, 67 percent said they except profits to increase in 2006. Another 37 percent said they plan to expand their business in terms of space in 2006.

Economic growth, health care costs, public education, available workforce skills and retaining young people were identified as the top five issues facing Cullman businesses.

The meeting also marked the end of several Chamber board members' terms — Grady Smith, Mike Manning, Jerry Scott, Alan Walker, Jimmy Dale Burgess, John Hunt, Danny Ray and Philip Tankersley. Terry Barkley and Paul Bussman are also rotating off the board's executive committee.Next month, Ed Darling, publisher of The Cullman Times, will officially take over as chair of the board, with James Eidson of Eidson Petroleum as chair-elect. Six new board members will take their seats: Cheryl Bailey, Elaine Cole, Steve Cummings, Jan Harris, Charles NeSmith and Albert von Pelser.

Upcoming Chamber events include:

• Feb. 22: OSHA compliance seminar at the Chamber, 11:30 a.m.

• Feb. 24: Luncheon at All-Steak Restaurant featuring a speaker from Wallace State Community College on workforce development, 11:30 a.m.

• March 9: Seminar on "Handling Information Overload" at the Chamber, 11 a.m.

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