Fitz-Gerald reflects on BWWMH board tenure

After two six-year terms, almost half as chairman, helping to guide Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital through good times and bad, Dr. Maurice Fitz-Gerald is clear about serving on the hospital’s board of directors.

“I have done my thing.”

This is the second time the local physician has served on the board since moving to Demopolis in 1965.

The biggest challenge the board has is to “try to weigh patient care against cost,” said Dr. Fitz-Gerald.  “The hospital here has been very successful.”

The board must be focused on the financial aspect of running the hospital, he continued. Members don’t always “see the results of patient care.” He admits his focus on how patients are served doesn’t always get along easily with the financial constraints faced by the hospital.

He is most proud of helping to find a way to keep open the labor and delivery unit of the hospital.

Eliminating obstetric care is “the fastest way to close down a hospital,” he said. Labor and delivery services lead to a higher volume of pediatric care and of gynecological care, he explained.

The biggest challenge to keeping labor and delivery in Demopolis is “getting women with insurance to deliver at this hospital” instead of opting to go elsewhere.

Dr. Fitz-Gerald is not shy about bragging on the local hospital, its close-knit, well-qualified staff and the successes it has enjoyed in patient care.

One of the major assets is the low infection rate after surgery. “Post-operative infection is a catastrophe,” he said.

Nationwide the hospital infection rate is 10 to 15 percent. BWWMH has less than two percent.

“God looked after small hospitals and small towns,” said Dr. Fitz-Gerald. The physicians in Demopolis know what bacteria they face, what those bacteria are sensitive to and how to combat them.

“It’ amazing how many old antibiotics we can go back to.”

Dr. Fitz-Gerald also is proud of the hospital’s reputation in treating heart attacks. Several years ago Medicare checked every hospital in the country and ranked them according to their success of patient survival. The Demopolis hospital came in seventh.

All the advances in the treatment of heart attacks mean there is a 97 percent chance of survival if a patient makes it to the hospital within two hours.

The consummate doctor that he is, Dr. Fitz-Gerald stressed the need for people to practice preventive medicine – just like using preventive maintenance on their car.

“If you don’t do it, you’re going to pay the price.” That means exercise, keeping weight down, not smoking and following physician’s advice on the use of drugs to lower cholesterol.

And that led him to the praises of family care physicians. He believes that specialists are overpaid and primary care physicians are grossly underpaid for the value they provide on the front lines of medical care. As for the future of medicine and the hospital in Demopolis, he points out the need to recruit younger doctors to serve clients in the area.

Although Dr. Fitz-Gerald has stepped down from service on the hospital’s board of directors, he remains up-to-date in his training. He takes at least 200 hours of continued education each year to remain current.