For nearly thirty-five years, Cindy Turner has worked at Bacon County Hospital and Health System, in Alma, Georgia, transitioning from the night shift in admissions to the business office, to CFO, and eventually to CEO. But her association with the rural community hospital goes back even further. Not only was she born at the hospital, but as the middle child between two rough-and-tumble boys, the self-described tomboy had her share of hospital visits when she was young.
“I always did whatever my brothers dared me to do, and my family doctor told me I had more stitches than any boy he had ever seen, so I was in the ER quite frequently as a child,” she says. “I grew up on a farm, picking tobacco and growing corn, and we always would end up in mischief.”
From a young age, Turner understood the importance of community. In fact, her grandfather was chairman of the county commissioners, and her family instilled in her a spirit of selflessness and civic duty early on. “I love helping people, and I feel any position in healthcare is a calling—it’s not just a job,” she says. “I have great love for the people of this community and the team that we have here. We are taking care of friends, neighbors, and family members, and it brings me great joy to be able to provide high-quality healthcare to our community.”
Given the trajectory of her career, the journey to becoming CEO began a while back. It was early in her career that Turner began learning and studying about healthcare reimbursement, when a tertiary hospital that was managing Bacon County Hospital sent her down to Jacksonville, Florida, so she could work in the accounting department and learn how to prepare budgets and financial statements.
“At the same time, I was taking college courses, and that ultimately led me to be chief financial officer, which I [remained] for almost twenty years,” she says. “During the time I was CFO, I filled in as interim CEO for almost three years, fulfilling duties of both. The hospital was going through a difficult period at the time, and we were trying to get things back on track. In December of 2004, the then-CEO decided to leave, and again I was asked to fill in and, after a few months, was promoted to the position full-time.”
As CEO, Turner has a hand in all of the organization’s initiatives, but one of the most notable is Bacon County Hospital’s recent renovation. The result has enhanced the patient experience and improved the community at large—a strategic plan that has been in place for more than twenty years.
“We built a building in 1992 to join the hospital and long-term-care facility under one roof, and departments such as environmental services, plant services, and the other services in that area could work more efficiently and better serve both sides of the facility,” Turner says. In 2009, the hospital began building a second story to that building, which would become its inpatient unit. The addition would have twenty-five additional beds, four of which would serve as ICU beds. “When that was completed,” she adds, “we went back downstairs to what was then the inpatient unit of the hospital and gutted and renovated it into an observation unit—expanding lab and x-ray departments, adding two new endo-rooms that are also used for the latest in Femto Laser Cataract surgery.”
The third phase of the project came about after the city allowed the hospital to close a street where the front entrance once sat and relocated it to face a major highway. The space of the old front entrance was then used to build two new state-of-the-art operating rooms—both 600 square feet—plus a recovery area, a patient waiting area, and a surgery entrance. Additionally, it added brand-new, cutting-edge CT and MRI capabilities to its facilities. This phase was completed in 2011.
“We didn’t want it to look stark and sterile, like most hospitals built in the ’50s, so we went with warmer colors—more of a hospitality feel, incorporating some nice artwork—and everyone was impressed,” Turner says. “We kept being asked when we would start on the nursing home, so our board decided to start constructing a new entrance and lobby in 2014, and also added a chapel.”
An entire wing was also added onto the nursing home, with private rooms and private baths, this past May. And the last piece of the $23.4 million project, completed in November, was a third phase that involved gutting and renovating the wing that had resident rooms, the rehab department, the activities department, and the vacated former entrance and lobby. With those changes, the facility now offers a total of twenty-nine private rooms.
Such attention and investment in Bacon County Hospital is reflective of Turner’s commitment to her roots—because if there’s one thing she has learned in her career, it’s that you can’t put a price on the value of a community-minded hospital. During her more than three decades in the industry, she’s seen hospitals in the region close, only to watch those communities dry up.
“For most rural hospitals, they are the largest employer in the community, and we employ about 450 people in our healthcare system,” she says. “We play a vital role. I’ve had family members come into our ER in the middle of a heart attack, and they would have died had we not been here. Our community deserves to have the kind of care that they would have if they were living in Macon or Augusta or Savannah—that’s the reason I have stayed here so long.”