Floyd Medical Center has been Rome’s birthplace for almost 80 years, since 1942. Since then, more than 150,000 babies have been born at the hospital – more than 75 percent of the population of the hospital’s four-county primary service area.
Kurt Stuenkel, President, and CEO of Atrium Health Floyd has guided the organization’s culture and strategy for the past 25 years, since 1996. Under his leadership, Floyd Medical Center has grown from a single county hospital to a medical hub with three hospitals totaling 389 beds that also includes a behavioral health center, primary care physician offices, eight urgent care centers and numerous outpatient services. Atrium Health Floyd also is an economic force in the community and is the region’s largest employer with more than 3,400 teammates and has an economic impact approaching $1 billion.
Most recently, Stuenkel facilitated the merger of Floyd with Atrium Health, a Charlotte, N.C.-based not-for-profit system of 40 hospitals and more than 70,000 employees. That decision, Stuenkel said, was important to ensure and assure the communities Atrium Health Floyd serves will have access to quality health care for future generations.
Asked what he considers the most notable change in his 25 years at the helm, he replied that it is difficult to name just one.
“When you drive by you see the facilities change,” Stuenkel said. “but we have achieved much more than new facilities. But, speaking of facilities, we reoriented the whole campus. When I came here in 1981, this was not an attractive corner and area. At that time, we had lots of properties all around us that were run-down buildings and older houses. We transformed the entire area and played a leading role in the vision for even more development.”
“There is a lot of interest in the whole area around us. We started that renaissance by acquiring properties, taking down old structures, and putting this good-looking campus here. We have wonderful facilities. Visitors and people who walk in our facilities and on our campus regularly tell us that. And we reply, ‘Thank you! We worked hard to make it happen.”
An Expanding Footprint
When the doors to Floyd County Hospital first opened on July 4, 1942, the hospital was located exactly where it sits today–at the corner of Turner McCall Boulevard and North Second Avenue. Over the next decade the five-wing, pavilion-style structure grew to seven wings with 121 beds, five operating rooms, two delivery rooms and a nursery. And, by 1956, a four-story addition brought the total number of patient beds to 180.
Since then, Floyd Medical Center’s main hospital campus has expanded to cover two city blocks that now includes the 304-bed hospital, two parking decks, 330 Physicians Center, the Medical Office Building that houses administrative offices, a Floyd Primary Care practice, the Preoperative Evaluation Clinic and specialty nursing services; the northeast wing, originally built to house a long-term acute care hospital, and the Harbin Clinic Tony E. Warren M.D., Cancer Center, which also houses The Breast Center at Floyd and Cancer Navigators.
An important change as the main hospital campus grew was the reorientation of the main entrance to Floyd Medical Center. For more than 60 years, the hospital’s main entrance faced Turner McCall Boulevard, but the facility was landlocked on that side and parking was limited. In 2004, a new main entrance opened, facing West Fifth Street, a 180-degree switch that served as a physical representation of a culture shift that had happened under Stuenkel’s direction.
The Atrium Health Floyd footprint also has expanded far beyond the main campus in Rome. Atrium Health Floyd operates and constructed a new hospital, Polk Medical Center in Cedartown. The system also operates Cherokee Medical Center in Centre, Ala. The organization has primary care offices or urgent care centers in Adairsville, Armuchee, Calhoun, Cartersville, Cedartown, Centre, Ala., Piedmont, Ala., Rockmart, and Summerville. Floyd Corporate Health oversees the school nurse programs for the Rome City, Floyd County and Polk County school systems, and Floyd Physical Therapy and Rehab has placed athletic trainers in high schools across the region.
In addition, Atrium Health Floyd just announced its latest service that will improve care and outcomes for residents of the area. “If approved by the State of Georgia, we plan to construct a free-standing emergency department in Chattooga County. This new service will provide around the clock emergency room services for residents who currently have to travel many miles to an emergency room.
The new freestanding emergency department will be located next to Walmart on U.S. Highway 27. This will provide convenient and easy access to residents traveling from any point in the county. An option to purchase this property has been signed. The facility will provide emergency care services and include six treatment rooms along with onsite laboratory and imaging services, including x-ray and a computed tomography (CT) scanner. The new facility is projected to cost $18.5 million and create 40 jobs for the community.
A Unique Culture
Internally, under Stuenkel’s leadership, Atrium Health Floyd is focused on service behaviors that engender an environment of care that is people-focused and supportive of employees. An indication of the strength of that culture is employee engagement results that have regularly scored the organization in the top 10% in the nation. Fifteen years ago, Atrium Health Floyd also introduced Lean Six Sigma, a process improvement and waste elimination effort that has positioned the system as an organization that embraces change, looks for synergies and efficiencies and shares responsibility for improvement across the organization.
The Atrium Health Floyd culture served the organization well when one of the first identified COVID-19 positive patients east of the Mississippi River came to the emergency room in February 2020. Atrium Health Floyd was among the first in the nation to tackle the new and emerging methods to face the pandemic. As the number of positive patients rose, the hospital quickly converted the bottom floor of a two-story physicians’ parking deck into a 100-bed field hospital and opened two floors of the vacant northeast wing, which previously had housed a long-term acute care hospital. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency also placed a 20- bed mobile COVID-19 unit in the hospital’s main parking lot. In the span of a few months, Floyd Medical Center had added capacity for up to 165 additional patients, giving the hospital the ability to be a resource for both its service area and overtaxed hospitals in other regions.
“We innovated during COVID,” Stuenkel said. “In addition to being one of the first to face the pandemic, we were one of the first facilities in the Southeast to administer monoclonal antibodies. Dr. Daniel Valancius, head of the hospitalist program, made it his personal mission to lead the way with this ground-breaking treatment. For over 3,500 patients, outcomes have been so much better because of it.
“To lead Atrium Health Floyd’s efforts during these recent troubling times and work with all our talented people has been my privilege,” Stuenkel continued. “Seeing and experiencing how everyone stepped up to deal with the challenges has been awe inspiring.”
A Bright Future
A little more than three months before the first COVID-19 patient was diagnosed at Atrium Health Floyd, the hospital system announced its intention to strategically combine with North Carolina’s Atrium Health.
“I have been working on setting the stage for the strategic combination for three years,” Stuenkel said. “It is an outgrowth of envisioning the future. It is part of my job to lead us to examine what we must do to ensure and assure the communities we serve that Atrium Health Floyd will be here for generations to come. We were at the strongest point we have ever been—facilities-wise, financially, strategically, and operationally. We were at a high point and still are, but the question loomed before us, what does the future hold?
“Most hospital organizations our size either already have or should go through this reflective process, and ask, ‘What does the future look like?’ I believe most hospitals our size will have to ask and answer this question at some point.
“While strong, Atrium Health Floyd still had strategic vulnerabilities. Our boards spent a lot of time thinking about those issues and through a very thoughtful process, we all recognized the need to find a larger regional partner.”
“We reviewed a dozen organizations that we invited to talk with us confidentially,” Stuenkel said. “We began to see what it might look like to combine with another organization, and our board of directors saw that it was the way to go. Atrium Health has a compelling vision that presented the right fit. And Atrium wants to expand into Georgia and has already associated with Atrium Health Navicent Health in Macon.”
With a promise of $570 million in capital over the next eleven years, Floyd Medical Center officially became part of Atrium Health in July of 2021. In addition to the capital promise, the definitive agreements allow much of the historically accumulated cash to be transferred to a healthcare foundation that will focus on addressing disparities of care in the communities served by Atrium Health Floyd. This foundation has an initial $141 million in assets that will grow to over $160 million in the next few years. The foundation will seek to preserve its capital while spending investment proceeds on important projects to address those disparities of care that are identified. “As time goes by,” Stuenkel said, “I believe that the new Floyd-Polk Healthcare Foundation will be transformational.”
Stuenkel is proud of the culture at Atrium Health Floyd. “We work as a team,” Stuenkel said. “Our very heartbeat is our mission, and we do our jobs for the love of our patients and the communities we serve. The Atrium mission statement encapsulates it beautifully: To improve health, elevate hope, and advance healing — for all.
“In addition, I am proud that we have and will continue to make things better. Not only do we care for hundreds of thousands of patients a year in our facilities, we constantly improve. We have expanded our service capabilities, including having facilities in every county we serve. We are recognized by our own employees as a top employer. We have a new foundation that will be transformational. Finally, by joining an outstanding organization, Atrium Health, we will all take Atrium Health Floyd to even new heights in service to our communities in the decades to come.”