The Healer with Determination

IF THE HOSPITAL LEADERS HADN'T GIVEN THE ONLY SURGICAL POST IN THEIR CLOSED STAFF TO SOMEBODY ELSE, Paul Flowers might never have opened what is today a bustling, 240-bed hospital in Dothan bearing his name.

And if he’d struck oil, as hoped, instead of hot water, Dothan might not have its Dothan National golf course and spa, built around his Olympia Spa.

But fate tossed him those challenges, and the Dothan native responded by creating a hospital, a resort, and many smaller projects.

It all started when Flowers came back home after college and medical school, not expecting any stumbling blocks. But he found that the hospital staff had no room for another surgeon, says his youngest son, George. When a spot finally opened on the staff, it was awarded to another young surgeon.

So Flowers bought the Blumberg house on West Main Street in the heart of Dothan.

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The hospital’s website includes a snapshot of hospital life in the early days:

There were no departments.  The “Emergency Room” was Dr. Flowers’ office. The hospital “Dining Room” was a table in the old Blumberg kitchen, and food was prepared by the cooks, Alice Hammond and Votie Satcher, and left on the back of the kitchen stove for self-service. Dr. Flowers’ late wife, Grace, planned meals and ordered food daily from Jack Robinson’s Grocery.  City Drug Co., next door to the hospital, was the “Pharmacy” and laundry was sent out to Bishop’s…

“Surgery” and “Labor and Delivery” included one operating room and one delivery room on the second floor on the site of the original sunporch. “Central Sterile” was a 5' x 8' area where the autoclave ran constantly, and surgical instruments were kept in a former kitchen cabinet.  An X-ray machine on the first floor comprised “Radiology” and, in those days, the doctors gave anesthesia for each other.

But Dothan needed the new hospital, says Suzanne Woods, now CEO of Flowers. And the hospital namesake was the right person to create it.

“Dr. Flowers was an outstanding physician, ” she says, “but he was a real simple man.” He insisted that staff members were kind to people, telling the staffers, “Patients won’t know you did a perfect x-ray, but they would notice how you treated them.”

Hospital use also demonstrated that the facility was needed, Woods says. After several additions, the hospital was simply unable to grow because of its landlocked downtown location. Another hospital had grown up on the east side of town, Woods says, so Flowers went west, into an area then mostly empty.

The new facility opened in 1983 and today that west side is the most heavily traveled area of town.

Son George jokes that he was the youngest of seven children, though you might as well say his parents had eight kids, they shared such a strong love for the hospital.

But Flowers also enjoyed his community and dabbling in other types of business, George Flowers says. His father tried his hand at oil and gas development, including the project that struck hot water instead of oil, which he turned into the Olympia Spa and golf course, now Dothan National. He had stores, traded stocks and bonds and developed real estate, too. And his philanthropy touched almost every part of the community, his son says.

But the medical practice and hospital trumped even his love for golf. “He enjoyed getting up and going to work.”

By Nedra Bloom and Bill Gerdes

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