Hospital board approves moving ahead with new hospital project

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by Richard Uhlhorn

At its Tuesday, July 28, meeting, the Lake Chelan Community Hospital’s Board of Commissioners discussed at length the issue of restarting the new Hospital Project.

The new hospital project has been on hold until the hospital can prove that it can afford to pay the bond which currently will cost the facility an estimated $165,000 per month. One hundred thousand dollars will go towards the bond payment monthly and the other $65,000 will be saved in reserve.

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Hospital CEO George Rohrich told his board of commissioners that he is very confident that the Hospital and Clinic can achieve enough business to afford to move forward with the construction project.

“I am very confident that we can achieve that, but I probably won’t be able to prove that (payment schedule) until the beginning of 2021,” said CEO George Rohrich. “I am recommending that the board restart the project,” he added.

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Commissioner Fred Miller was on board from the beginning
to restart the hospital project.

Commissioner Fred Miller agreed with Rohrich that at a minimum the hospital needs to move forward. Commissioner Jordana LaPorte asked if Rohrich was recommending a full start. Rohrich replied that he was recommending the project begin again. “We have two years to meet the debt,” said Rohrich. “We need to get together and decide and approve any design changes and get this (project) permitted.”

The bond for $20 million of the total $44.5 million (USDA loan) was voted in by District residents in April, 2017. Since that time the facility had been resized from the original plan to provide 54,000 sq. ft. It is now down to 45,000 sq. ft. to stay under the $44.5 million dollars.

In February, the board voted to pause design and construction for a period of six months at which point they would re-evaluate the District’s financial situation.

On August 24, at a special board meeting, the commissioners made the decision to shutter its Sanctuary drug and alcohol program which will help the hospital gain more square footage for new services and potentially save $3 million dollars in construction costs.

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Commissioner Jordana LaPorte is concerned with the
ongoing hospital financial picture.

LaPorte is very concerned with the financial outlook and whether or not the hospital will be underfunded. Fred Miller replied that they have to go to the next step to figure that out. Mary Signorelli added, “We will be looking at what needs to go into our facility. Give him (Rohrich) the green light to move forward.” She also stated that other decisions can be made at an upcoming workshop.

Rohrich told the board that they have to review the footprint now that the Sanctuary is no longer in play and also work the COVID environment into their decisions. “There will be multiple decisions for the board to consider,” said Rohrich.

LaPorte is concerned about the district having the revenue to pay for it. Mary Murphy is also concerned. “One hundred and sixty thousand dollars must be generated to pay the USDA loan,” she stated. “He (Rohrich) feels confident in trying to achieve that, but can’t really prove that until 2021.”

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Commissioner Mary Murphy wants to see evidence that the District will be able to pay $165,000 per month.

Murphy added that there were a number of issues not under Rohrich’s control including, but not limited to negative conditions relating to the pandemic; patients not coming to the hospital currently for health care; and the health industry at large facing big changes. “We know our bond rating has gone down again,” said Murphy. “We need to look at our service lines and I’m having trouble with this.”

“Are we going to be able to pay if the criteria is $160,000 per month. I need to see the evidence,” said Murphy.

Miller said, “We don’t have a crystal ball if we don’t move forward. George wants permission to move forward.”

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Commissioner Mary Signorelli said residents within the hospital district would like to see the board move ahead with the new hospital project.

Signorelli stated that she was not willing to become paralyzed over what the future holds. “People would like to see us move forward,” said Signorelli. “We have something to build on. Lets let the administration do their job.”

Rohrich said that approval to move forward would get the District and its designers back to designing. “There are a lot of approvals to come,” said Rohrich. “What I’ve asked for is to restart. We need to review the footprint and design.” He said he would come back to the board for budget approvals.

The board voted to approve moving forward with Mary Murphy the sole member of the board opposed.

The Board will convene a workshop sometime in September or October for a more meaningful report on the design.

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