DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WMBB) — The only hospital in north Walton County has been shut down for more than 15 months.
As Walton County prepares to enhance medical operations with a new helicopter, a new ownership group is looking to reopen the old hospital in DeFuniak Springs.
Healthmark Regional Medical Center shut down on March 18, 2022, for renovations but closed its doors for good.
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said the shutdown put residents in a tough spot for more than a year.
“It put a tremendous strain on the fire rescue and EMS in North Walton, there’s no question about that. It impacted the surrounding hospitals, Bay Medical, North Okaloosa, Twin Cities, Doctors Memorial in Bonifay, all of them were impacted by this hospital closing” said Adkinson.
Now, new ownership and a new future are in sight for the Highway 331 campus. A group of doctors bought the location after seeing the need firsthand.
“This is an explosively growing community and right now it doesn’t have any significant healthcare assets such as a hospital, an emergency room, or operating room capability,” said Dr. Huy Nguyen, CEO of Doctors Memorial Hospital. “So bringing back that facility as part of an overall broad campus scheme. But certainly, the emergency room and the OR are going to be significant for this community.”
Dr. Nguyen said the inside of the hospital is practically ready to go. The ownership group is looking at an opening date of January 1, 2024, and start hiring for the location in October of 2023.”
“It’s fairly plug-and-play. The old ownership did a great job of recently renovating it and actually keeping it pretty well maintained. I think they just ran out of bandwidth to keep it going,” said Nguyen. “But by all means there’s going to have to be some renovations. We know that there’s going to have to be some work with the air conditioning system or some improvements on that, but overall we think and we’re hopeful that it can be operational by January 1, 2024.”
The new hospital will be named the North Walton Healthcare Campus, capable of emergency services, dental surgery, orthopedics, and specialty care.
“We certainly will be able to provide emergency care, radiology, and laboratory services. With the two operating facilities, we’ve already started talking and recruiting surgeons that will operate out of those,” said Nguyen.
Sheriff Adkinson is hopeful that partnership will make this time different.
“I think one of the things is there are some supporting facilities working here, right? This is a group of doctors. It’s not an individual, and I think that’s going to have a huge impact,” said Adkinson. “If they’re all in, I’m all in. Because it’s just that important. It really does save lives. We use that term a lot but this is not hyperbole, this is really about minutes, seconds saving lives and so whatever it takes to get them up off the ground, it’s better for the citizens of this county.”
New ownership hopes to hire Healthmark staff members who were laid off without notice when the facility closed last year.
The purchase of the location is still under contract and has not been finalized. News 13 will stay on top of this story if anything changes.