RMC Jacksonville

RMC Jacksonville. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

None of it is true. That’s what Billy Grizzard, the chairman of Regional Medical Center’s board of directors, said last week.

“I’ve heard rumors that we’re going to close the (Jacksonville) hospital in two weeks or in June,” he told the Star. “None of it is true.”

Joke’s on us, right? Grizzard said it, and we believed him.

Wednesday night, the RMC board — the Healthcare Authority of the City of Anniston — approved the hospital’s closure. Thursday morning, a news release confirmed it. RMC will shutter its Jacksonville location June 30 and donate the property to Jacksonville State University, which needs classroom and campus housing space after the March 19 tornado. RMC will try to relocate as many of its 140 or so Jacksonville employees as it can to the system’s other locations.

In essence, Mother Nature’s damage to JSU’s campus presented the RMC board with a timely opportunity to shut down a risky and unprofitable acquisition while helping the local university in the process. That could be today’s story — how the RMC board made lemonade out of a rotten lemon, a feel-good headline about a community cornerstone assisting JSU in its time of need.

For that, RMC, despite the closure, would have deserved praise.

Instead, Calhoun Countians are wondering what part of the “none of it is true” statement wasn’t true. Or, bluntly, if RMC has a clue when it comes to public relations since the hospital in recent years has feuded with the city about its legal status; briefly canceled its Blue Cross/Blue Shield contract; and refused to disclose the sale price of the Jacksonville hospital.

Keep in mind that the hospital’s closing was the county’s worst-kept secret. The rumors were rampant, consistent and worrisome. No one wanted the Jacksonville hospital to fail. But in small cities like Jacksonville and Anniston, where families and co-workers and friends share the same circles, it’s impossible to keep a juicy secret or prevent rumors. The Star received at least one anonymous letter, which we did not print, that laid out many of the then-unsubstantiated facts that now have been proven correct.

The better play at RMC would have been to adopt one of two approaches: either say “no comment” to questions about the Jacksonville campus, or be up front from the get-go. We prefer the latter, though a “no comment” would at least have allowed the board to avoid this “none of it is true” disaster.

There is no shame in business failures. Not all deals succeed. The Jacksonville hospital was a risky buy because of its shaky fiscal health, which was no secret. Grizzard even told The Star this month that the hospital’s mandated 24-hour emergency room had been a financial “burden” for RMC. Closing the hospital, terrible as it is for the employees, wouldn’t have been a surprise.

So, why deny the rumors as patently false? Why risk the hospital’s reputation? If that was the legal advice the board received, it was awful counsel that should have been summarily ignored.