Flowers Hospital, Today
Flowers Hospital, 1950
The sprawling complex that defines Flowers Hospital as a regional medical referral center today bears no resemblance to the tiny 12-bed hospital opened by Dr. Paul Flowers nearly a half century ago in the former Blumberg house on Dothan's West Main Street. Many of the 250+ physicians on staff today were not born in 1950, and the technology they routinely use in treating patients was unheard of or largely experimental.
It is fitting that Flowers Hospital began existence in a former home, for the mood was one of family. The doctors, staff, and patients all knew each other. There were no departments. The "Emergency Room" was Dr. Flowers' office. The hospital "Dining Room" was a table in the old Blumberg kitchen and food was prepared by the cooks, Alice Hammond and Votie Satcher, and left on the back of the kitchen stove for self-service. Dr. Flowers' wife, Grace, planned meals and ordered food daily from Jack Robinson's Grocery. City Drug Company, next door to the hospital, was the "Pharmacy" and laundry was sent out to Bishop's. In addition to Dr. Flowers, who was trained as an obstetrician and gynecologist, other physicians began using the hospital, including the late Doctors Robert Crawford, William Ball, Percy Hopkins, and Theron McFatter. There were five registered nurses and two practical nurses. Dr. Flowers was joined by the late Dr. Jimmy Jones, OB/GYN, in 1954, and by the late Dr. Davis Haughton, surgeon, in 1956.
"Surgery" and "Labor and Delivery" included one operating room and one delivery room on the second floor on the site of the original sunporch. "Central Sterile" was a 5' x 8' area where the autoclave ran constantly, and surgical instruments were kept in a former kitchen cabinet. An X-ray machine on the first floor comprised "Radiology" and, in those days, the doctors gave anesthesia for each other.
In addition to his medical responsibilities, Dr. Flowers was in charge of hiring and firing. He also signed all the checks and handled personnel problems. Patty Sue Pelham and Susie Hinson were the "Business Office." They manually handled the billing, payroll, and invoices. Nothing was automated. Gradually, the little hospital tripled the number of beds for a grand total of 36. In 1962, Dr. Furnie Johnston moved to Dothan and became the first orthopedic surgeon on staff. In 1963, the late Dr. R. Doss Cleveland, OB/GYN, joined Dr. Flowers’ practice. By now, patient needs were beginning to exceed the original structure. This increase precipitated the purchase of more land for new construction. An addition to the hospital was opened in 1963 that included 60 new beds, two operating rooms, and two delivery rooms. The kitchen, record room, supply room, storage, and accounting office remained in the old hospital building. In 1969, after almost two decades in existence, a three-story addition was constructed, adding another 60 beds. On a Saturday night in May, 1974, fire destroyed the old Blumberg home sill housing the original hospital. As history would later reveal, the fire came to symbolize the end of one era and the beginning of another.
A New Era Begins
By the summer of 1975, there were 40 physicians serving in the hospital. In July, two UAB-trained cardiologists, Dr. Ron Harrell and Dr. James Sawyer, moved to Dothan to set up their practice at Flowers. It marked the first time that physicians who had been specifically trained in cardiology fellowship programs opened a practice locally. In committing to establish a cardiology program, Dr. Flowers agreed the hospital should be equipped to meet the physical needs such an undertaking would require. This meant an extensive outlay of capital in order to purchase equipment and supplies for the first cardiac catheterization laboratory in Dothan, to improve existing intensive-care facilities and monitoring capabilities; and to seek out and train qualified registered nurses and technical personnel.
The cardiologists formed the nucleus of a group of young, well-trained medical specialists and subspecialists who would soon follow. The hospital both supported and assisted the efforts to recruit new doctors to the community. In 1978, the hospital opened an 80-bed, three-story addition and signed a contract with Hospital Corporation of America to oversee the hospital's operation, management and planning. The town and the medical community were beginning to grow. Each 10 miles added to the radius of Dothan encompassed 100,000 more people. As the radius widened, more patients were brought in, creating a need for still more doctors to care for them. By 1979, it became apparent the hospital not only needed to position itself to take advantage of this growth but also to try and stay ahead of it. The building on West Main Street had grown physically as much as it could. The area was landlocked and parking was inadequate. Following the advice of hospital management, Dr. Flowers decided to construct a new hospital on the western side of Dothan, in the direction of the city's growth pattern.
Room to Grow…
In 1982, on the site of a dense pine forest along Highway 84 West, ground was broken for the new facility. On June 18, 1983, after 33 years, doors closed on the downtown landmark, and Flowers Hospital was reincarnated in a 189,000 square foot, six-story tower supported by an adjacent professional office building. After months of carefully orchestrated planning, the relocation of patients by bus and ambulance went smoothly, and within twelve hours there were admissions to the new Emergency Room, surgery was performed, and all other patient care activities were underway. Emotions among physicians and staff ran high that moving day. There were feelings of wondrous pride in the beautiful new facility, coupled with underlying nostalgia for the place they were leaving behind. Many expressed the desire to carry forward the spirit and tradition of the old Flowers Hospital, where patients had been cared for as family members. At the dedication of the “new” hospital which bore his name, Dr. Flowers stated: “If anybody thinks this is the realization of a dream, they are wrong; I never dreamed it. All I wanted was to have a place where I could practice the type of medicine that I had been trained to do.”
For the first time in its history, Flowers Hospital now had the land and opportunity to grow in both size and complexity, unencumbered by geographical constraints and fueled by accelerated advances in medical technology. Within three years, the hospital was at the center of two events that made local medical history. In 1985, coronary angioplasty was performed for the first time in Dothan in the Flowers Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory by cardiologist, Dr. William P. Hood, Jr. A cardiovascular surgery program was established in the community a few months later with the arrival of cardiovascular surgeon Edward J. Planz, Jr., and in January 1986, Flowers Hospital was the site of the first open-heart surgery in Dothan.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Flowers Hospital continued to mature. A second, four-story physicians’ office building went up in 1988, and a new 100,000 square foot, four-story tower was added to the hospital in 1990. An Outpatient Surgery Department was added and later expanded; a new Cardiac Catheterization Department opened and enlarged to include two state-of-the-art Catheterization Labs; the Emergency Room tripled in size; the Surgery Department expanded and today includes 27 surgical suites; an Endoscopy Laboratory was built; the Sleep Laboratory opened; and the Radiology Department grew to house two CT scanners as well as MRI facilities.
The More Things Change....
In 1992, the Flowers family sold the hospital to Quorum Health Group, the company that had been managing it for many years. Although the ownership changed, the hospital remained a private facility. In October, 2000, Quorum Health Group, Inc., signed an agreement with Triad Hospitals, Inc., for Triad to acquire Quorum. Management of Flowers Hospital again changed hands in 2007 when Triad was acquired by Community Health Systems, Inc., an operator of acute care hospitals in non-urban markets located throughout the United States.
In December 2010, Flowers Hospital reached a milestone when it celebrated its 60th anniversary. Over the past sixty years, Flowers Hospital has continued to make great strides regarding advancements in medical technology and patient care. Today, Flowers Hospital is a regional medical referral center for the 450,000 people living within a 50-mile, 16-county radius. The hospital has 235 acute-care beds, four Intensive Care Units (Medical, Surgical, Cardiac Care and Cardiovascular), and 38 Outpatient Surgery beds.
The technology and equipment used by the staff is among the most sophisticated available, and it is continually being upgraded. Included are: MRI; CT Scan; Linear Accelerator; Rheolytic Thrombectomy (Angiojet); Electrophysiology Lab; two Cardiac Catheterization Labs; and Hybrid Lab.
Flowers Hospital has proven to be a catalyst for change in the Wiregrass area. The growth of Flowers Hospital prompted the development of health care as a huge local industry. With over 1,300 employees, Flowers Hospital is the second largest employer in Houston County and a major supporter of the tax base.
The leadership of the hospital anticipates a continued and rapid acceleration of technological capabilities. The keys to providing health care successfully will be quality, convenience, and accessibility. Challenges remain. There is a need to identify new and more efficient means of meeting the health care needs of the community, while recognizing the budgetary limits imposed on both business and government. The hospital must continue to actively recruit, retain, and develop both well-qualified and compassionate physicians and support staff.
After more than six decades of life, the atmosphere that has long permeated the hospital is still in evidence; health care continues to be viewed as a very personal service provided to patients who are treated as family and neighbors. The same spirit that guided its tiny forbear still fuels the heart of Flowers Hospital.