Doctors Memorial Hospital CEO Dr. Huy Nguyen is among a group of area doctors who have been working to revitalize and reopen Healthmark Regional Medical Center on Highway 331 in DeFuniak Springs.
The facility closed in March 2022 citing renovations; however, it failed to reopen amid financial woes, including missed payrolls.
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson told Washington County News and Holmes County Advertiser media partner WMBB in June that the shutdown put residents in a tough spot for more than a year.
“It put a tremendous strain on the fire rescue and EMS in North Walton, there’s no question about that,” said Sheriff Adkinson in an interview. “It impacted the surrounding hospitals, Bay Medical, North Okaloosa, Twin Cities, Doctors Memorial in Bonifay, all of them were impacted by this hospital closing.”
Today, the hospital is another step closer to re-opening because of efforts by Dr. Nguyen and his partners, which comprise North Walton Healthcare Campus LLC.
The group announced Monday that it has officially closed on 35 acres of land and the two buildings which formerly housed the facility.
The group says the reopening of the hospital, which will be named North Walton Doctors Hospital, will be part of a much-needed rebranding of the facility that reflects a commitment to high quality healthcare led by physicians.
Dr. Nguyen has been named North Walton Doctors Hospital CEO, with the group pointing to what it called in a press release his “track record of success in reviving rural hospitals.”
“Since taking over as CEO of Doctors Memorial Hospital in Bonifay, Florida, that facility has more than doubled its revenues while increasing its Google review ratings from 2.3 to 4.0 stars, earning them the highest patient satisfaction of any hospital in the region,” the release stated.
“It really begins by changing the culture of an organization,” said Dr. Nguyen. “In Bonifay, we made it clear to everyone that works at the hospital that our patients are our customers, and the goal is for everyone who walks through our doors to receive excellent customer service. We also made significant investments in technology.”
“We are one of the few rural hospitals in the state offering robotic surgery. I don’t let the fact that we are rural become an excuse for not keeping up with the newest trends in healthcare,” he continued. “This is a part of the larger plan to bring high quality health care to DeFuniak Springs.”
The group stresses that the focus on customer service and innovation can save lives, regardless of a hospital’s size.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, under the leadership of Dr. Nguyen and hospital pharmacist Warren Bailey, Doctors Memorial led the early treatment innovation by providing life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments subcutaneously as an adjunct to drive-by Covid testing,” the Monday press release stated. Utilizing this technique, Doctors Memorial, a 20-bed rural hospital, gave more life-saving treatment for COVID-19 than any other hospital in the state. Patients from 49 different zip codes traveled to be tested and if positive, received monoclonal antibody therapy.
“This is how physician-led healthcare can really reshape healthcare for the better. Rather than following the CDC and NIH recommended protocols, which failed miserably and increased mortality, physicians on the front lines made a dramatic difference in our region by having the opportunity to see what was working and reacting accordingly,” says investor and local physician leader Dr. Jon Ward. Ward also added, “The reopening of this facility is less about making money and more about saving lives. Fortunately, I think we have a great opportunity to do both.”
When Healthmark closed its doors in 2022, it left the majority of North Walton County without access to emergency medical services. Data from the Walton Economic Development Alliance tracks the drive times to emergency rooms, and it revealed that most of North Walton is not even within a 30-minute drive of any emergency room. “It’s been shown that with heart attacks and strokes, the number one factor in mortality is how close is your nearest emergency room,” explains Dr. Nguyen. “By simply getting these doors open and providing cardiac protocols and stroke protocols in time to make a difference, we start saving lives on day one. You really can’t place a price tag on that.”
The group states there is significant community support for the reopening.
Drs. Nguyen and Ward will be at the upcoming Walton County Board of County Commissioners meeting to ask for funding from the county to assist with the indigent care requirements of operating an emergency room. The group is working with Walton County Fire and Rescue to provide support services for their EMTs responding to 911 calls in the field as well as support the county’s community paramedic initiative. Partnerships with CHELCO and Northwest Florida State College are also in the early stages.
The group says that besides being critical to the health of the community, the hospital will also add to the overall economy in the area, adding about 110 “well-paying jobs” in the first year.
North Walton Doctors Hospital is expected to open in early 2024.