County okays land buy for new hospital
At their Friday, January 19 meeting, the Morgan County Commission approved Morgan County War Memorial Hospital's purchase of 80.5 acres for a new hospital site. Morgan County War Memorial Hospital is a county-owned facility.
The new hospital site will be located on Fairview Drive near the Fairview Subdivision around 1.4 miles from the present hospital.
The land was purchased from Brian and Amy Christaldi of Chevy Chase for $1,458,600. The couple agreed to sell the land to the hospital for $18,000 an acre.
War Memorial Hospital officials secured a loan from Valley Health Systems to buy the property. Hospital revenues will pay back the loan over the next eight years, according to War Memorial Hospital administrator John Borg.
The county is not purchasing the property although it will initially be held in the County Commission's name, said Borg. They will transfer ownership of the land to the Morgan County Building Commission, he said.
Building new is less expensive
Hospital officials looked at remodeling the aging hospital piece by piece over 51 months, which would mean interruptions in services, said Borg. Building a new hospital will cost $5-$7 million less than to remodel, said County Commissioner Tommy Swaim, who is on the hospital's board of directors.
The estimated cost for a new hospital is between $15 million and $30 million. Preliminary estimates from several contractors vary and the low estimate does not include the 16-bed nursing home in the cost, said Neil McLaughlin, vice president of operations for War Memorial Hospital. The construction of a new hospital is expected to take 12-24 months.
The future Morgan County War Memorial Hospital will be a 25-bed critical access hospital that offers acute or skilled care and 24-hour emergency services, as the current hospital is. It will also have a 16-bed long-term care unit, but more beds may be added in the future to the nursing home. Sometimes 60-80 people are on the nursing home waiting list, said McLaughlin.
Preliminary designs for the new hospital include three phases of construction. The main hospital facility will be built in the first phase. Two medical office buildings and an assisted care facility will be constructed in the second phase. Independent care homes for people 55 and older will be added in the third phase of construction.
The hospital and its parking areas, medical office buildings, assisted care facility and independent living homes will take up around 25-30 acres of the land, said Borg. That leaves nearly 55 acres as a buffer. Around 65 acres is buildable land, he said.
The proposed bypass would touch the southwest corner of the property, said Borg. The entrance to the hospital would be on Fairview Drive. Access from Route 9 and U.S. Route 522 is being discussed.
Morgan County has the fastest growing secondary home market in the Panhandle, said Borg. Those buying the future 1100 homes at Coolfont will want health care, he noted. The Orleans development is another big player, said hospital board member John Locke.
"We need to be ready. A new hospital will attract people," said Locke.
Possible funding sources for the new Morgan County War Memorial Hospital include federal loans through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), loans through a consortium of local banks and a Missouri foundation that will loan up to $25 million to critical access hospitals. The hospital would have a mortgage to finance the construction and would fund their payments using hospital revenue.
War Memorial Hospital has increased its revenue through the employment of area physicians and the purchase of physicians' practices. They have employed Dr. Joseph Hashem, general surgeon Dr. Jules Levey and family physicians Dr. Tresi Duffy for Berkeley Springs and Dr. Cameron Duffy for Hancock.
The hospital purchased Hashem's building and land and the practice of Hancock physician Dr. Frank Thomas. They are in preliminary talks with several physicians and other medical personnel.
Area physicians are also supporting the hospital by referring patients for care and testing, said Borg. They have dramatically increased the number of admissions and amount of care at the hospital, he said.
Certificate of need
Once the design has been approved and funding secured, the hospital must apply for a certificate of need to receive a state building permit to proceed with construction. A public forum with citizen input will be part of the certificate of need process to show support for the new hospital.
Hospital officials and staff are excited about the land purchase as the first step toward a new hospital. They hope to break ground for the new facility in the first quarter of 2008, said Borg.
A long process
"It's been a long process to get here," said County Commissioner Glen Stotler.
It's a nice piece of property and a good location, he said. Stotler thought finding 80 acres nearby was remarkable. Regulations stipulated that the critical access hospital could only move so far from its present location.
Commissioner Tommy Swaim made the motion that the County Commission approve the land purchase.
"This is an exciting day for me," said Swaim, who at times wondered if they'd ever find a site.
County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson seconded the motion, saying that she understands the need to purchase the property. Hutchinson asked to be briefed on the hospital project since she just came into office.