TMH Board to review other hospital sites

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After about an hour of listening to residents' concerns about the proposed location for a new hospital Wednesday night, hospital board members succumbed to the complaints.

In an informational meeting held at the Holiday Inn of Craig, The Memorial Hospital Board member Ron Danner assured about 40 people in attendance that the board would investigate other possible building sites.

"The bottom line is concerns that were raised tonight brought up questions to which there were no answers," he said after the meeting. "We will try to provide as much information and dedicate as many of the resources as we have available."

One night after the Craig City Council tabled a decision on writing a letter of support for construction of a new hospital at the same site where the current hospital sits, board members had concerns reiterated to them about the chosen location Wednesday night by several local residents.

Many in attendance said they believed hospital officials should have taken the time to investigate other locations before purchasing $1.8 million in property around the current hospital and moving forward with plans to build at that site.

"We need a new hospital but you can't do it at that site," audience member John Peroulis said. "Money would be wasted. Anytime you have to redo something, you spend twice as much."

He said it would be easier and cheaper to build at an undeveloped site within the city than to redo gas, water and sewer lines and tear the old building down.

This would have to be done at the proposed location, which is right next to the current hospital.

Preliminary plans for the new hospital at the proposed site show a parking lot where the current hospital sits, and have the hospital sitting on Russell Street, which would have to be vacated.

Mike Anson, owner of Anson Excavating and Pipe Inc., agreed with Peroulis.

"You're going to have to spend a couple of million to redo what's already there," he said. "If you pick some sites, I can give you a rough estimate of what it's going to cost to get the infrastructure you need."

After the meeting, Anson said money saved by having to demolish buildings and making adjustments to infrastructure is money that could be put toward a new facility.

"You can put in new infrastructure a lot cheaper than you can tear out the old," he said. "I support a new hospital, I just don't support the location they have chosen."

After the meeting, TMH Administrator Randy Phelps said he did not know what it would cost to inspect other sites.

He estimated that just soil samples would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

"I'll probably start looking at that tomorrow," he said. "The board has to come back together to figure out what we're going to do."

The original goal was to break ground on a new hospital in July but Phelps said that has already been moved back to the end of the summer.

But he said other factors have delayed the projected starting date, and said what the board agreed to do Wednesday would not impact the time frame on when hospital officials want to begin construction.

"We can do that concurrently with what we're already doing," he said.

Phelps maintained that one of the reasons hospital officials wanted to build at the proposed site was so it could use the Visiting Nurse Association for office space.

Figuring offices into the plan, which would have to be done at another site, will cost more money, he said.

"Building a hospital somewhere else is going to cost $4 or $5 million more," he said.

Hospital officials have concluded that it can handle a debt service of $16 million for construction of a new hospital.

Funding will come through a loan from the federal Housing and Urban Development committee.

Officials hope another $2 million can be raised locally through a recently created non-profit hospital foundation.

Hospital officials said they would ask an architecture firm and project manager, already hired for the project, to develop a construction plan that does not exceed $18 million.

Before it is approved for its loan, TMH needs to submit letters of support from local agencies, such as the city and county.

Phelps said HUD officials also would make a trip to Craig to discuss the project and get a pulse of the community.

"We need community support," Danner said. "If we don't have it, HUD might say, 'We're not going to do it.'"

Peroulis said community concerns voiced Wednesday night could hurt the hospital in its plight to acquire the funding.

"If HUD comes back here and sees this dissent, you're not going to get any money," he said.

The recent public outcry about the hospital's location came as a surprise to Danner.

"A year ago a group of community members came forward and said, 'We don't care what you do as long as you don't raise taxes," he said. "We've found a way to do that."

The hospital recently converted to critical access status, which makes it eligible for cost-based reimbursements for Medicare patients.

That switch will increase its annual revenue by nearly $1 million, which will allow it to pay its debt service without asking for a tax increase.

Audience member Linda Booker said it didn't matter, it was still taxpayer dollars.

"HUD money is tax money and we're still the taxpayers," she said. "We're still the ones buying this hospital."

While the board agreed to look at other property, several questions could not be answered after the meeting, such as how much it would cost and what properties would be reviewed.

But Phelps and Danner agreed one positive has come out of recent meetings a public consensus that a new hospital is needed to replace the current 50-year-old facility, which falls short of many accreditation requirements.

A year ago, some residents were still unsure.

"That's important," Phelps said. "They want a new hospital. We're past that dialogue."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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