By LISA MONTI
CEO Norman Price has guided Southwest Health System’s growth for more than 30 years, starting when it was the 160-bed Southwest Mississippi Medical Center to through its expansion into the multi-county healthcare delivery network it is today.
Price’s arrival to McComb was memorable in a couple of ways. His first day on the job, Jan. 7, 1985, was his birthday and his middle son, Aaron, was born that very day at the Medical Center.
To mark the 30-year anniversary of Price’s service, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to put his name on the Ambulatory Surgery Center, which he helped create not long after he took over the hospital.
When he and his family moved from Birmingham to McComb in 1985, he recalled, “It was the beginning of a new thing called ambulatory surgery centers. It was the first thing we established here.”
Price is modest about taking credit for expanding the services and facilities at Southwest Health System, and said having a building named after him is “sort of embarrassing.” His speech at the ceremony naming the Norman M. Price Ambulatory Surgery Center consisted of two words: thank you.
“That’s all I said,” he recalled.
Price said he learned the lesson in brevity from a teacher in high school.
“When I won an award, I told her I didn’t know what to say. She said, ‘Say thank you.’”
After the ceremony, Price generously shared credit with his colleagues.
“As everyone knows, later I said that a lot of people were involved in developing the surgery center, including Dr. Will Austin and the late Dr. C. Foster Lowe, not to mention our employees. All I did was sort of facilitate. They were the ones who made it happen.”
One of the surgical suites is named in honor of Austin, a long-time Ear, Nose and Throat physician in McComb and another suite honors the memory of Lowe, a well respected surgeon who practiced for many years at Southwest Regional. Both physicians helped pave the way for the same-day Ambulatory Surgery Center.
Looking back on the many additions to the medical center services and facilities over the years, Price said with typical modesty, “I’ve been here when a lot has happened and tried to stay out of the way.”
The additions include The Mississippi Cancer Institute, The Mississippi Cardiovascular Institute, Southwest Regional Women’s Center, St. Luke Home Health & Hospice, 15 Doctor’s Clinics, an Urgent Care Center, Lawrence County Hospital, a Sleep Center, Level III Trauma Center, Digestive Disease Center, and the Southwest Medical Foundation.
The system employs 1,200 and has a payroll of more than $68 million.
“The new ER department has grown to 50,000 visits a year and we’ve consolidated most physician practices,” Price said.
Southwest Mississippi Medical Center is owned by Pike and Amite counties and the city of McComb. Again, Price gives credit to the boards of supervisors and city officials for fostering the medical center’s development to better serve its communities.
“Sometimes the political process impedes growth,” he said, adding that those officials have helped, not hindered progress. “They’re the group who have been behind the growth.”
Also, he said, “The owners recognized this is not only needed for the health of our citizens but is also a source of jobs and economic growth. They have been very supportive and are always asking what they can do.”
“The Board of Trustees have been the energy core that made the biggest impact on this facilities growth. Without their support and expertise, none of the expansion would have occurred,” Price said.
With three decades behind him, Price plans to stay on the job and work through the massive changes unfolding in the health care industry.
“It’s our primary goal now to adapt and survive until we see what the future brings,” he said.
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