08 Aug Competition Between 2 Abilene Hospitals Benefits Patients
Abilene spine surgeon Dr. Paul McDonough worked for both Abilene Regional and Hendrick Medical Center for the first 15 years of his 17-year career here.
And though he has been with Abilene Regional exclusively for two years, McDonough said he’s immensely grateful that Abilene has both north-side and south-side health care centers.
“A town that only has one hospital is often very limited,” McDonough said. “It’s not as beneficial to the community because there’s no competition, there’s no opportunity to have the impetus to innovate and provide consumer service.
“So to have two hospitals here gives the impetus to have more innovation, bring in better doctors. It’s crucial to our community.”
Dr. David Halbert, who was with West Texas Medical Center at the start of its eventual evolution into ARMC, said Abilene having only one hospital, as it more or less did when WTMC opened in 1968, was a “mistake.”
The creation of WTMC was first and foremost a business venture, Halbert admitted.
“We didn’t do it to be right or wrong,” he said.
But Abilene was a community that needed another hospital and it has benefited from the community of medical professionals and others that have grown up around them, he said.
“Hendrick is a great hospital,” he said. “I’ve been in there a few times myself. But we needed a second hospital. And helping bring that competition here is something I’m proud of.”
Dr. Richard Stanley has worked for the past 22 years at ARMC in obstetrics and gynecology.
But he also worked at Dyess Air Force Base, Hendrick exclusively for the first part of his career, and at both ARMC and Hendrick.
Echoing McDonough and Halbert, Stanley said, “I think a competitive situation is better than just having one hospital.”
“It allows for more diversity, more opportunities for different services,” he said.
McDonough said Abilene Regional has been “very physician friendly and will work for physicians,” including through adopting technological tools such as robotic surgery options.
Though Hendrick recently expanded its program, for years Regional was home to the only neonatal intensive care unit in town, Stanley said, a boon when it came to helping premature children stay in town for care.
Regional’s NICU “made a huge difference in my ability to take care of my patients,” noting that forced travel to an out-of-town hospital for care in such circumstances can be extremely difficult for families.
In late 2017, Hendrick expanded its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to 12,000 square feet and added 12 nurses to the NICU.
McDonough said competition “pushes you to be better,” as a physician, and makes local institutions better.
He said that before he came to Abilene in the early 2000s, many patients were going to the Dallas area for spine surgery despite having two hospitals here.
“A lot of what I was trying to establish was in excellence in care here so people don’t see a justified need to travel,” he said. “Plus, for followup and if there’s problems or complications, it’s very problematic when a doctor’s three hours away and you can’t get a hold of them.”
“Another thing is you have that kind of north and south side of town, so it’s good to have medical care on both sides,” McDonough said.
That line is somewhat blurring. In August 2015, Hendrick opened Hendrick Medical Plaza on Buffalo Gap Road, extending some of its programs and an emergency room to south Abilene.
Having diverse care available locally on both sides of town is important, McDonough said, no matter who offers it.
“And it’s good for the town and the economy to have the patients treated here,” he said. “If they’re treated here, that means all the ancillary group, the people that provide medical equipment and all the ancillary things, that part of the economy is here, too.