A Munford native, Hawkins spent 12 years at The Donoho School in Oxford, four years at Morehouse College in Atlanta, just over two years in medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and then another two years finishing degrees there in business administration and hospital administration. It was a circuitous route, and one that Hawkins appreciates now.
“I love business,” he said. “I love service. But more importantly, I’m very committed to small markets.
“Coming from Munford, and the route I took with school and everything, I kind of like a big challenge. It was almost like pushing a rock uphill.”
Now 37 years old, a husband and father of a 1-year-old daughter, Hawkins is vice president and chief operating officer of Rural Hospital Operations for St. Vincent’s Health System. He maintains two offices: at St. Vincent’s Blount in Oneonta, and at the new St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital in Pell City. Each facility poses its own challenges.
“Truth be told, the hospital in Blount, financially, could be doing better, and I’m proud to see that it’s moving in that direction,” Hawkins said. “Here, even before we got to the new facility (in December), the team and I were able to make significant improvements, even in the old building. And then, now that we’ve been here for just a month and some change, we’re already seeing better than expected results.”
Hawkins has been with St. Vincent’s Health System nearly two years, after five years of employment with Health Management Associates, working at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in Anniston. His role at St. Vincent’s is a multi-faceted position.
“In a nutshell … anything in the hospital that doesn’t have a nurse in it probably reports to me,” he said. “Physical therapy, radiology, dietary, we have an outpatient time-share, etc., etc., any of those types of things, I work with those departments. I also have a role in physician recruitment, business development, those types of things.”
Hawkins’ parents, Edward and Tyra Hawkins, still live in Munford, roughly 30 minutes from the new facility in Pell City. Hawkins and wife Kia live in Trussville with their daughter, Alahna.
It is his commitment to medically underserved areas — “MUSAs,” according to the federal government — that drives Hawkins at his current job. Both Pell City and Oneonta qualify.
“It’s not about the dollars and cents,” he said. “It’s about keeping health care in rural settings.
“Over the last 18 months, if you include Hartselle Medical Center, that’ll be three rural hospitals in Alabama that have shut their doors in just under two years. You’ve got to make money to keep the doors open and provide the care, but St. Vincent’s motto is that we want to provide care where it’s needed, as best we can. We’re breaking the mold.
“We put in a brand new CT scanner (at Blount); we’re putting digital mammography. I can tell you, most of your larger facilities, especially going east, don’t have digital mammography. We’re putting in a new nuclear medicine camera there.
“(In Pell City), we built a brand-new hospital, it has a 64-slice CT scanner — that’s UAB level — we’re aggressively pursuing physician recruitment, we’re set to open two new service lines mid-year — sleep diagnostic centers and comprehensive lung care services. Not bragging, but we’re doing the exact opposite of what you see other rural hospitals undergoing, and I’m excited for St. Clair.”
Hawkins also says he appreciates the faith-based nature of his current company. His favorite place in the new hospital is the chapel.
“I love the fact that I can openly pray with the directors that I work with,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we start every meeting with that. I love the fact that at 8 a.m. I’m going to hear a prayer over the loudspeaker. I love the fact that we walk the walk in terms of that, and don’t just talk it. St. Vincent’s really puts the dollars behind this hospital to make it happen.
“I often remind people who have been a part of St. Vincent’s for 10, 20 years, it’s easy to take it for granted, but this is not what it’s like everywhere. I think my being here is part of the overall of what I wanted to do.”
Hawkins says his wife was also attentive to that. After the birth of their daughter, Kia, a registered nurse, came to work at St. Vincent’s East, after five years at Brookwood Hospital.
“She came from a for-profit setting, and the cultural experience for her has been wonderful,” he said. “It affords us both the opportunity to be part of the same system, but never at the same hospital.”
Hawkins’ goals for the future remain high: he believes the key to the success of his industry is keeping patients out of the hospital, if possible.
“It seems counterintuitive, but our goal is to keep you healthy,” he said. “If you happen to need to be in the hospital — and at some point, all of us are going to be there — we hope you choose us and you’re confident in getting your care here.
“I’m proud to be part of a faith-based organization, because that’s not just lip service. It’s not just a talking point that sounds good for the paper; it’s true. We can do good things for the community here and keep people healthy as a whole.”
Contact Will Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.