Signature HealthCARE to partner with NFCH

Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 07:32 AM.

Shaky start

In March of 2004, Schlenker’s corporation Northwest Florida Healthcare Inc. leased the Northwest Florida Community Hospital from Washington County for 40 years. At the time, the hospital was in big trouble — it was millions of dollars in the hole and showed no signs of improving, Schlenker said.

As a representative of the Sacred Heart Health Systems, Schlenker had investigated the Chipley hospital as a possible investment for that company, but the sale didn’t happen. Schlenker, after having done due diligence, saw something that made him want to come to the Washington County facility’s rescue.

“I just fell in love with the community, and with the people,” Schlenker said. He resigned from Sacred Heart and started his own company to run the hospital, but he could find no willing investors. NFCH had lost almost $5 million in the four years prior to 2004, with $1.9 million of that being lost the year prior to the lease.

The Schlenkers had to personally sign for a $1.5 million small business loan to help get NFCH back on track. “That loan is almost paid off now,” Schlenker said. “That was a scary time, but I couldn’t find any investors.”

In Schlenker’s office hangs a dry-erase board with the message: “Mr. Schlenker, thank you for believing in us. Good luck!” The board is signed by employees and it was created in 2004 when NFHI took over the hospital. Eight years later, Schlenker still believes.

Prayer was also part of Schlenker’s secret for success. “I used to pray all the way over here from Milton, sometimes I had to pray that we would make payroll,” he said. “There was no money in the hospital at all.” Schlenker also took a 75 percent salary decrease in his new role as CEO/President of NFCH.

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