Deborah “Pepper” Hoover

Deborah “Pepper” Hoover is surprised Wednesday to be announced as the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s Healthcare Professional of the Year. Hoover is Wallace State Community College’s Department of Nursing Education Chair.

Cullman Regional Medical Center, like hospitals and other medical providers across the country, face an increasingly tougher environment to do business, but the 75-year-old institution is prepared to meet those challenges.

That’s the message interim Chief Executive Officer James Clements offered attendees at the annual State of the Hospital Address Wednesday. The event was part of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leaders Luncheon where Wallace State Community College’s Department of Nursing Education Chair Deborah “Pepper” Hoover was named the chamber’s Healthcare Professional of the Year.

“They didn’t tell me why I was coming today,” she said. “Many of you know how passionate I am, since I started working at the hospital, about Hospice, the Good Samaritan Clinic, United Way and the college.”

In his abbreviated address, Clements — who took over the post in August with the May departure of former CEO Jim Weidner — first touched on the hospital’s challenges. Clements said medical providers are weathering a one-two punch of declining Medicaid and Medicare payments and growing unfunded care driven by emergency room visits. Clements said CRMC’s unfunded care runs between $7 million to $8 million annually.

“Those forces together put a lot of pressure on a hospital’s revenue stream,” Clements said. “It’s a different environment than the one I entered 30 years ago. The question then was who is going to build the new hospital? What place? Today, it’s how are you going to change your business processes or which service lines are you going to reduce? Business efficiencies and improvement in quality are the kind of things you have to do to be successful.”

In September, CRMC implemented a $3.2 million cost reduction plan. Details were sparse on the cuts, except for roughly $100,000 in annually savings from streamlining recruitment services for physicians. The hospital is also reaping the benefits from an improved revenue cycle, Clements said.

In November, the hospital was one of just a few in the sate to received the Joint Commission’s Top Performer 2013 award for meeting key goals. The Joint Commission is the leading accreditor of health care organizations in the country.

Going forward, Clements said CRMC will focus on better marketing its services to a broader community and continuing to look for innovative ways to control costs.

Chamber Chairman Jason Grimmett presented the Healthcare Professional of the Year to Hoover who surprised with the award by her boss, WSCC President Vicki Hawsey Karolewics.

Karolewics said Hoover has been instrumental in pushing forward the college’s nursing program, from securing accreditations to establishing an alumni connections program. Mostly recently, Hoover played a crucial part in the campus’ new $25 million state-of-the-art nursing and biology building.

“Pepper is a woman who knows how to dream big,” said Karolewics in regards to Hoover’s efforts to get a cutting edge facility for nursing students to learn.

“Our nursing students outperform their university counterparts who learn in four years what our students learn in two,” Karolewics said. “Our students also consistently outperform their university counterparts on the licensure exams, for the state and nationally.”

Karolewics said 75 percent of CRMC’s medical staff are Wallace State alumni.

Hoover was recently named to the Cullman United Way Board of Directors and has previously served on boards for the Good Samaritan Clinic and Hospice of Cullman County.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at or by phone at 256-734-2131.

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