Blackwell Hospital remodel discussed at Town Hall meeting
A $12 million proposal to remodel the Blackwell Regional Hospital was the topic of discussion at a Town Hall meeting held Thursday night at the county fairgrounds. Here's what you need to know:
In late 2018, the Blackwell Hospital Trust Authority announced a plan to build a new hospital facility in Blackwell. According to city officials, the current hospital, built in 1953, is no longer “operationally efficient.” Citing this, officials have announced a plan to construct a new hospital that would include an emergency room, inpatient and outpatient services, and an on-site clinic to be used by the hospital's physicians.
Under the proposal, Stillwater Medical Center, the operator of the current hospital, would operate the new hospital and pay the cost of its operations. Stillwater Medical would also be responsible for any losses incurred by the hospital.
According to a flyer distributed at the meeting Thursday, Stillwater Medical would take over the hospital's operations. Hospital employees would become employees of Stillwater Medical, and Stillwater Medical would pay a “reasonable lease rate” to the city in order to use the facility. Stillwater Medical would also receive $2 million to continue operating the existing hospital while the new one is built. That sum of money is the remainder of a $7 million loan provided by the Blackwell Public Trust to the hospital in 2016 to save it from closing, according to city officials.
Stillwater Medical would not receive any additional tax support, according to the flyer.
The hospital is owned by the city of Blackwell. Stillwater Medical Center operates the current hospital via an agreement with the city.
According to a report released by the city of Blackwell, the total cost of building the new hospital would be $12,680,160.32. This cost includes building the new hospital and relocating the existing heliport, which is used by medical helicopters to ship patients to other facilities. It also includes the cost of demolishing some of the existing hospital and purchasing new equipment.
Under the proposed plan, the hospital's existing emergency room – which was built in 2012 – would be kept and integrated into the new facility.
HOW THE NEW HOSPITAL WILL BE DIFFERENT
City officials at the meeting Thursday said the proposed hospital would have only five inpatient beds, meaning only five patients could be admitted to the hospital at a time. This is a decrease from the current hospital's 49 beds. Hospital officials said that the current hospital, on average, uses only five beds at a time. After being questioned by members of the public, Steven Taylor, the hospital CEO, said the new hospital would be designed with “flexible space” that may be able to accommodate 7 or 8 beds.
Unlike the current hospital, the new hospital would not have a surgery suite, meaning surgeries could not be performed. Hospital officials say, however, that surgeries can no longer be performed in the existing hospital due to coding requirements from the federal government.
HOW THE PROJECT WILL BE FINANCED
There are three main sources of funding for the project, according to Mayor T.J. Greenfield. Most of the project, he said, will be financed through a 1 percent sales tax already in existence. In 2016, Blackwell voters approved the tax to help fund the hospital after a failed bid by AllianceHealth, which then operated the hospital, to close it.
However, in order for the tax revenues to fund the project, the tax will first have to be extended by a public vote. At the meeting, city officials said that the election is slated for April 2. Before any election can happen, however, the Blackwell City Council will have to formally call for an election. This process is expected to take place before the end of the month. City officials said this tax would not be a “new tax,” but rather the extension of an existing one. If approved by voters, the life of the tax would be extended another 25 years.
Part of the project will also be financed through the remaining $2 million from the original $7 million loan given by the Blackwell Public Trust in 2016. The trust was formed after the city of Blackwell won an environmental settlement against the owners of the defunct Blackwell Zinc Company.
City Attorney Bryce Kennedy explained, “That $7 million was [given] to set up and operate the hospital. We still have $2 million of that left. That $2 million will continue to be used on the hospital in the interim time while the new hospital is being built. The funding for [the project] will be the pledge in sales tax, plus once we are able to recoup that settlement money, [the settlement money] will retire the old bond. It will be applied to the new bond, and if it's refinanced, it will be applied right from the get-go.”
New market tax credits will also be used to pay for “a few million” in costs, Mayor T.J. Greenfield said at the meeting.
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