For 23 years, Tracy Doughty has been a fixture in the Huntsville Hospital Health System.
The University of North Alabama graduate started as a staff nurse in the hospital’s trauma intensive care unit (ICU). He later went back to school, earning advanced health care degrees and landing coveted spots on the hospital’s leadership team.
As his career evolved and the City’s population increased, Doughty said there’s been one constant.
“The growth we’ve seen in the community has been a huge testament to the work the City’s done to make Huntsville, from an aesthetic standpoint, clean and vibrant,” said Doughty, now president and chief operating officer at Huntsville Hospital. “We’ve worked closely with our City leaders to make sure downtown has a place for people to go and have fun, but also our roads and infrastructure can keep up and outpace our growth.”
City, hospital partnership
Huntsville Hospital is a community-owned, not-for-profit health system that includes not only Huntsville Hospital and Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children, but also facilities across North Alabama and Southern Tennessee. Additionally, the system operates Caring for Life, an inpatient hospice facility on Serenity Lane in Huntsville.
The hospital is governed by the Health Care Authority of the City of Huntsville, a nine-member volunteer board. Members are appointed by the Huntsville City Council from a list of nominees submitted by the Authority. The appointment process ensures the board represents the best interests of the broader community.
Mayor Tommy Battle said the City’s partnership with the health system has been mutually beneficial since he was first elected in 2008.
“Huntsville Hospital is the second-largest hospital in Alabama for good reason,” he said. “In the 13 years I’ve been in office, we’ve seen the hospital expand its services throughout the region. This was done not only to grow the hospital’s footprint, but also to ensure we’re taking care of patients across our entire region.”
In the 13 years I’ve been in office, we’ve seen the hospital expand its services throughout the region. This was done not only to grow the hospital’s footprint, but also to ensure we’re taking care of patients across our entire region.”
Working through COVID
Despite unprecedented challenges caused by COVID-19, Battle said Huntsville Hospital has been consistently innovative and flexible in meeting the public’s needs.
For example, Huntsville Hospital worked with the City and Thrive Alabama to offer drive-thru testing in the early days of the pandemic. When the vaccine came available in late 2020, the health system launched a vaccination clinic in the Jaycee Community Building at John Hunt Park.
“No matter what challenges arose, they were there with solutions for servicing our community,” Battle said. “They worked closely with us and our health care partners to deliver the best care possible for our residents.”
Having a strong partnership with the City is a win-win for the hospital because it improves quality of life for everyone, Doughty said.
“From the citizen’s perspective, they should have confidence knowing if the hospital needs something, the City’s been right there along with us to help,” he said. “And if the City needs something, we’re going to do our best and vice versa. We’ve always had an open-door policy to the City leaders and they have an open-door policy for us. We all work very well together because we have the common goal of making sure our community grows and our citizens are taken care of in a friendly and just manner.”
In recent years, Huntsville Hospital has grown its footprint throughout the region with the development of the Huntsville Hospital Health System, which includes hospitals in Madison, Athens, Decatur, Boaz, Guntersville, Moulton, Red Bay, Russellville, Sheffield, Scottsboro and Fayetteville, Tenn.
Huntsville Hospital also has a network of primary care physicians and specialists to provide additional services outside the traditional hospital setting. With Huntsville now Alabama’s largest city, the health system is poised to meet increasing demand for services.
Achieving smart growth is as much a goal for Huntsville Hospital as it is for the City. To ensure the health system is expanding appropriately, Doughty said hospital leaders are working closely with Mayor Battle’s administration to identify opportunity areas.
“We look at where the new rooftops are because that helps us plan where we put doctor’s offices,” he said. “And with the City’s plans for infrastructure and roads, we knew where the major thoroughfares are going to be for the City, which helps us know where to go in the future.”
One of the bigger issues moving forward will be workforce development. Like a number of industries, the health care sector also faces challenges in finding, recruiting and retaining quality employees.
Because Huntsville Hospital staff is so specialized, Doughty said making Huntsville attractive to potential newcomers is critical. That’s why they’re leaning on the City’s efforts to continue to make Huntsville a great place to live, work and play.
“As long as we’re keeping our City vibrant, we’ll be in the game,” he said. “We look to the City to continue to do the things they’re doing with the downtown, walkways, green spaces. All of those things matter when a person’s choosing where to spend the rest of their life.”