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County commissioners fund $100,000 in repairs to hospital chiller system

IDABEL, OK - On Wednesday afternoon in a special meeting called by the McCurtain County Board of County Commissioners, the hospital was was awarded $100,000 to make critical repairs to the hospitals chiller system.

The current 45-year-old system, with a life expectancy of only 20 years, controls the entire hospitals air-conditioning system and humidity controls in areas such as surgery. In December, the commissioners visited the hospital to inspect the chiller system and the next day, that system went down for eleven straight days for repairs to be made.

"I told Robert (Beck) not to touch anything while we were out there." Chairman of the commissioners, John Williams, joked on Wednesday before the vote was taken to determine whether the group as a whole supported providing funds to the hospital. The vote carried unanimously.

The commissioners will each take equal amounts from their own operating funds to assist in the repairs. The total cost for the repairs was over $115,000 and the hospital will be responsible for all repairs over the $100,000 contribution from the county.

The current chillers were installed in the 1980's. In newer hospitals, chiller systems are not much larger than a household icebox, whereas the hospitals chillers are as large as a full-size automobile. Over the years, the mechanical and electrical components within the chillers have deteriorated and with these repairs, those components will be replaced with an all new electrical system that controls the motor. New chillers would cost over a half million dollars, making these repairs to the current system more cost effective than entire replacement.

"If our chillers go down, we have to close the hospital until the repairs can be made." said David Caudle, the hospitals director of . "We've babied these machines for many, many years and having only one that works, we've been unable to service and maintenance the machine for over seven years." he continued.

Caudle said the one chiller the hospital has operational, has ran non-stop for those seven years.

The down time in December did not result in closing the hospital because outside temperatures was so low. Making repairs to the equipment quickly is important because the repairs could take days and with Spring coming, temperatures fluctuate so much and any outside temperatures above 70 degrees can be 10 or more degree warmer inside the building.

The county commissioners have assisted in several equipment purchases over the last two years. For instance, in 2023, the commissioners voted to purchase surgery equipment and a medication dispensing system that together, cost over $500,000. The county received several million dollars in federal funds and some of those funds were used to also purchase land for the new hospital.

"Every single one of our commissioners recognize how important health care is to this county and how important it is that we make these costly repairs," hospital CEO, Brian Whitfield, said on Thursday morning. "I arrived here as the new administrator in early 2022 and had the privilege of working with former commissioners Westbrook, White and Jennings on repairs and equipment," he said, "and I have had the privilege of working with Williams, Beck and Thomas."

"Our county government has an extremely difficult task of managing the county's business and finances." Whitfield continued. "They have been supporters of the hospital and the positive changes we've worked to effect and have helped in so many ways." he said.

Recently, Chairman John Williams, loaned a parking lot striping machine to the hospital that will allow the hospital to re-stripe its parking lot. Commissioner Tina Foshee-Thomas has committed road materials to fill holes at hospital, too.

"We are working hard to clean our hospital up and make repairs." Whitfield said. "We have always operated with such limited financial margins but as we have increased service lines and collection efforts on money owed to the hospital, we are taking those funds and making improvements to the hospital." he said.

The chiller work is expected to begin soon.

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