Hospital board votes 3-2 to move forward with design

by Richard Uhlhorn

After arguments for and against moving forward with construction documents for the new hospital, the board voted 3-2 with both Mary Murphy and Jordana LaPorte voting against.

Most residents are aware that the current hospital has been in financial straits for a number of months. Many employees were either let go or resigned under CEO Steve Patonai, many of them crucial to the very operation of the hospital, i.e. coding personnel. Billing suffered and today, many old (not in age) patients are receiving invoices that are beyond two years old.

The Board of Commissioners are under a lot of pressure, not only from lagging financials, but also from a populace who voted for a new hospital.

The vote to allow the design team to move forward with construction documents is only one part of the entire process. The board will have to make some major decisions down the road concerning the future of the new hospital.

Following are the arguments for and against moving forward with design:

Commissioner Jordana LaPorte is concerned about the hospital’s future financial health to pay the debt service on the new hospital building when it becomes due. The amount the hospital needs to pay is $160,000 per month. The hospital has not recovered its financial health but is working on that.

LaPorte was clearly unhappy with the September financials she was given. “They weren’t pleasant,” she said. “Not comforting.” Later in the discussion she stated that the hospital lost $650,000 in September. “I’m just trying to go into the project below budget.” Currently the proposed cost of the hospital is $1.8 million above budget.

Mary Signorelli voted to move forward with the design team preparing construction documents for eventual permitting in January.

Mary Signorelli said she wanted to stay on target. “I don’t know if we are ever going to be 100 percent satisfied with accounting,” said Signorelli. “We have the opportunity to move forward with design so we can move closer to the target. The design is going to be where it is… another step before permitting.”

Dick Bratton said the design team was essentially asking to finish the design work. “We are in the early stages of construction documents,” he said. Bratton added that the finished design would be submitted tot he board for final review. “We can’t guarantee the maximum cost of the project which we don’t know.” He said they wanted the opportunity to start construction in 2021.

LaPorte replied that the project was $2 million over budget at this time. Phyllis Gleasman stated that CEO George Rohrich would be giving an updated budget. Murphy stated that the dynamics were different before the pandemic. “We can’t cover the $160,000 per month to pay the debt back and that is very concerning to me. There is a great deal at stake here and a great deal at risk.”

Mary Murphy is also concerned with financials and was the second vote against moving forward.

Murphy said she couldn’t vote to move forward on what she knows today. “It is a very difficult time to be moving forward.”

Fred Miller voted for moving forward because it is an essential part of the process. He feels the big decision will be made next spring when the time comes for the contractor to break ground.

Fred Miller stated that the continuation of the design is just a part of a multi-process. With regards to the final costs, Miller said that the project hasn’t gone far enough to find out the final costs. “I think we should move forward,” said Miller. “We have a decision to make next spring and it could be a big one.”

Chairman Phyllis Gleasman also voted to move forward to final construction documents. More will be forthcoming at the next hospital board meeting after the Facilities Committee has had a chance to meet.

Gleasman also felt that it was important to move forward to the final construction documents to find out what they will be presented with. LaPorte asked about removing two med/surgical rooms and one birthing room to bring the budget in line with the $44.5 million figure. She asked whether a decision has been made and Gleasman stated that the facilities committee hasn’t met yet to discuss that eventuality.

Bratton stated that there were a lot of variable in figuring out how much could be saved by shaving more rooms off the building. “It takes a little bit of study.” LaPorte replied that she was just trying to go into the project below budget.

Signorelli stated that the hospital was looking at 10 years down the road. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but the community is growing rapidly and billing will be a lot different in the future. I’m for moving forward.”

LaPorte replied, “I’m not saying I don’t want a new hospital because I do.” She suggested that holding off an negotiating with the USDA seemed to be the right course forward.

The design team got its wish and will now move forward with construction documents which will help the hospital with their next decision going forward with construction.

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