Health care in the Tennessee Valley

by Tim

in Huntsville Brac Relocation

With the BRAC move of AMC to Redstone Arsenal only two years away employees at Fort Belvoir interested in making the transition have begun collecting information and planning. Many employees have expressed concern over the availability of health care providers in the Tennessee Valley region.

Several articles have been published in the Huntsville Times that address this issue including, “Hospitals striving to ensure BRAC transfers’ needs met” and “Need to find a family physician? Help is just a phone call away.”

The rumor mills have been spinning with questions of the number of doctors, availability of services and level of care. The following information was gathered from Huntsville-area health care providers to provide AMC employee moving to Redstone the guidance they need to make their health care transition a smooth process.

The role of the family practitioner

Local health care experts advise that your first step in relocating your health care needs is to establish a relationship with a Family Practitioner. Whereas in the Northern Virginia it is common practice to maintain several specialists for each medical need you have, in the Huntsville area the standard procedure is to establish a FP and allow that doctor to coordinate your medical needs.

Many members of the Advance Team relocated and attempted to make appointments with local specialists and found that no one was accepting new patients. This can be alarming and deceptive. After further research, Advance Team members discovered that there was not a lack of health care providers, but rather a different way of doing business.

According to Dr. Pam Hudson, Crestwood Medical Center chief executive officer, most specialists don’t accept new patients off the street.

“The best way for a patient to make an appointment with a specialist is through a referral from their family practitioner,” said Hudson.

According to Hudson, this is just standard practice in the Huntsville area.

Dr. Robert Center, dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Huntsville Regional Medical Campus, said establishing a FP is in the best interest of you family’s health care.

“A family practitioner can act as the conductor to your orchestra of medical needs – overseeing every aspect of your family’s medical care. This is just good medicine. A family practitioner can handle 95 percent of your medical needs, including those of women and children. And if there is a specific issue that needs more specialized treatment, your FP will refer you to a specialist,” said Centor.

“The family practitioner will take care of your entire family, from birth to grave,” said David Spillers, chief executive officer of Huntsville Hospital.

Centor explained that FP is a specialized medical field whose physicians have completed medical school, a one year internship and two years of residencies including rotations in internal medicine, pediatrics, nursing, obstetrician and gynecology, and sports medicine.

Ready for BRAC transfers

Spillers explained that the numbers estimated of those relocating won’t put a strain on the medical community in Huntsville.

“Huntsville has been rapidly growing over the past several years so this influx of people is just normal business for us,” said Spillers.

And that fact can bee seen in the numbers.

According to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s census figures the 12-county region of North Alabama has a population of about 900,000 and has seen a population growth of more than 5,000 people per year over the past five years. The Huntsville Times estimates BRAC will transfer 4,500 Washington-area Army employees over five years.

Spillers, Centor and Hudson all agree that the medical community in the Tennessee Valley is equipped to handle any population increase.

“Huntsville has been ranked as one of the top 10 places to practice medicine,” said Hudson. “So it’s not hard to recruit the country’s best physicians and we’ve been aggressively doing so for the past several years.”

Quality of care

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services there are 17 major hospitals within a 50-mile radius of Huntsville, Ala. In Huntsville alone there are two major hospitals and a medical campus – click here for a full list of available medical facilities.

Huntsville Hospital is one of the nation’s largest locally owned not-for-profit facility with 881 licensed acute care beds. The health care team at Huntsville Hospital is comprised of 650 physicians supported by 5,000 hospital employees, including nearly 2,000 nurses. Huntsville Hospital offers a wide variety of services and maintains several additional facilities including Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children, an outpatient Medical Mall and Madison Medical Park.

Crestwood Medical Center, Huntsville’s privately operated hospital, is an acute care, 150-bed facility with more than 500 physicians on staff representing 50 different specialties. Crestwood Medical Center is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations and features several centers of excellence.

There are also several medical facilities in outlying communities:

Just the facts

Still concerned about the level of health care available in the Huntsville area? Here are some statistics to ponder:
(Data compiled from All data as of 2005. * per 1,000 population.)

  • Total hospitals: Ala., 109; Va., 87; Md., 50; D.C., 11 (Total in U.S. 4,936)
  • Hospital beds*: Ala., 3.4; Va., 2.3; Md., 2.0; D.C., 6.1 (National average 2.7)
  • Hospital admissions*: Ala., 155; Va., 103; Md., 122; D.C., 241 (National average 119)
  • Emergency room visits*: Ala., 459; Va., 382; Md., 386; D.C., 615 (National average 387)
  • Outpatient visits*: Ala., 1,659; Va., 1,758; Md., 1,208; D.C., 2,834 (National average 1,971)
  • Number of physicians: Ala., 11,352; Va., 23,676; Md., 25,037; D.C., 4,854 (Total in U.S. 973,524)
  • Number of registered nurses: Ala., 37,270; Va., 53,850; Md., 49,010; D.C., 8,340 (Total in U.S. 2,368,070)
  • Number of physicians assistants: Ala., 288; Va., 1,019; Md., 1,488; D.C., 191 (Total in U.S. 55,063)
  • Medical school graduates in 2005: Ala., 226; Va., 379; Md., 427; D.C., 411 (Total in U.S. 15,736)
  • Paid medical malpractice claims in 2007: Ala., 21; Va., 94; Md., 126; D.C., 18 (Total in U.S. 8,848)

Advice from the experts

Local health care experts agree that there are several things you can do before you relocate to prepare:
1. Get copies of you records – Visit your doctor(s) when your move date gets close. Notify them you are moving and request copies of you medical records including a list of all prescriptions.

“Many doctors provide electronic records these days, either way having a copy of your records and a list of your prescriptions is extremely important,” said Spillers.

2. Obtain a referral – Doctors have a network of colleagues and can provide you with a referral before you even move. Ideally the referral would be to a FP, or from specialist to specialist.

“The doctors in our community have studied or practiced medicine all over the country. I would be very surprised if your doctor didn’t know a colleague in Alabama they could refer you to,” said Hudson.

3. Do your research – Depending on your current insurance you may need to adjust or change plans. Blue Cross/Blue Shield is the dominant insurance provider in the Tennessee Valley region, according to local health care providers. HMO plans are not available in the area.

4. Assistance is available – Both Crestwood Medical Center and Huntsville Hospital have established hotlines to match newcomers with physicians. You will be asked basic biographical information and paired with a physician through a database of health care providers accepting new patients.

  • Crestwood Medical Center (256) 429-5000
  • Huntsville Hospital 866-581-BRAC (2722)

More information

Spillers, Hudson and Centor are making themselves available to answer your questions during a March 27 Brown Bag. The lunch-time event will be held in the Miller Operations Center. For more information visit the BRAC Web site.

Edition 6 of the “AMC News Dispatch” will highlight the health care issue and provide those relocating with useful information. Visit the AMC News Dispatch Web site to view the health care edition when it becomes available March 27.

Printed resource materials are available in the Transformation Team kiosk located at 2-2NE1706, local health care information will also be distributed during your in-processing at Redstone.

Still have questions? Visit the AMC BRAC Blog and post your comments or questions.

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The data relating to Huntsville AL Real Estate on this Web site derive in part from the Valley MLS IDX datashare program. © 2016 Valley MLS, Inc. All information provided is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified.

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