Pastors gather in support of Chaplaincy Program at new Highland Community Hospital

Published 2:08 pm Friday, October 21, 2011

Pastors representing several faiths gathered at the Cornerstone, Thursday at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the potential for a chaplaincy program at Highland Community Hospital and funding to operate it.

Dr. Stanley Jack Watson, a former World War II Chaplain, led the group discussion along with the Rev. Keith Warden of First Baptist Church in Picayune. Present were: The Rev. Allen Hickman of Resurrection Life Ministries; Suzy McDonald of Southern Regional Corporation and member of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church; Michelle Boyd of First Baptist Church of Picayune; Mark Stockstill, Administrator of Highland Community Hospital; Dr. Edward Pinero, Mayor of Picayune; the Rev. Darrell Worley of Christian Life Assembly of God; the Rev. Brian Frank, Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church of Picayune; the Rev. Walt Barnes of Roseland Park Baptist Church; the Rev. Jim Slowey of First Baptist Church in Nicholson and the Rev. Carl and Jennie Heberg of Hand of Hope Ministries.

Warden called the meeting to order and Dr. Watson, a member of the Crosby Memorial Hospital Board (now named Southern Regional Corporation) for 15 years, opened with the history of hospital.

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Dr. Watson said, “When I became a member of the Crosby Memorial Hospital Board in 1993 I learned how the hospital was in trouble. We were in trouble financially, care was only passable and employee morale was low. Most of the local physicians were sending their patients to Slidell, La. The final blow came when the government cut our funding by one third for outpatient services.

“We knew we had to think creatively and find a buyer with resources that could keep the hospital open.”

Crosby Memorial Hospital was first sold to New American for $16 million dollars. The company also purchased several other hospitals in a short period of time just before filing bankruptcy.

Dr. Watson said, “A group of local doctors purchased the hospital from bankruptcy court and after running it a few years sold to Forrest General of Hattiesburg, who then renamed it Highland Community Hospital.  At that time we followed the advice of our lawyers and transferred over $15 million dollars to Southern Regional Corp. to establish a foundation named Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation(LPRVF).

“The board of SRC decided that one it’s first efforts would be to fund a chaplaincy program in the new hospital. This decision was made on the basis that the program would enhance and expand community health, which was exactly what the foundation was set up to do.”

At that time, Watson and the board met with Dr. Gene Huffstutler, Director of Clinical Pastoral Education in New Orleans, La., who reviewed the proposed program and suggested they hire a chaplain who would provide basic chaplaincy services and coordinate educational events periodically which would involve community clergy.

Dr. Watson cited points from a Mayo School of Heath Sciences study and presented points of merit for the Chaplaincy program which were:

1. The Chaplain Program will support the various community ministries of different churches. 2. It will enhance— not replace the pastoral services offered by the patient’s pastor. 3. It will save the community money— Watson quoted a Veteran’s Administration Feasibility Study in which the researcher, Dr. McSherry, estimated the cost of the chaplain visits to be less that $100 per patient and that the group visited by chaplains left the hospital an average of two days early which at that time saved about $4,000 dollars per day. 

Dr. Watson said he was delighted that a Chaplain’s office was included in the drawings for the new Highland Community Hospital building which is currently under construction. He then asked the pastor’s in attendance if they would support the program and unanimously they indicated that they would.

Warden asked what pastors could do to express support for the program and help get approval for funding for a grant from LPRVF.

McDonald suggested they find out if they have the support of their congregations for the program and if they do have support to write a letter to the LPRVF explaining their position and encouraging them to maximize their contribution for the Chaplain Program.

Before closing in prayer, Watson told those in attendance to support the local hospital because it offers excellent care and needs the community behind it.