Trustees’ chairman critical of ACH move



May 5, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Harry Lee, chairman of the Allen County Hospital trustees, criticized his fellow members Tuesday night for what he perceived to be a rash decision to locate a new hospital on U.S. 54 rather than on a rural spot north of town.
Lee was the lone “no” vote to have the hospital in town. Trustee Karen Gilpin abstained from the vote, which also cast her against the downtown location.
Perhaps in an effort to get things off his chest, Lee made the remarks “as a citizen, a Medicare recipient, a possible donor, and as a representative of those who feel they don’t have a voice” in the decision-making of the board. Lee tried to make this distinction from his role as a board member by placing his ball cap at his usual seat at the head of the table and moving to the back of the room where chairs are arranged for members of the audience. All hospital trustee meetings are open to the public and the beginnings of each meeting allow time for public input.
Lee said the hospital board faces a public relations meltdown because of the seemingly swift about-face favoring the downtown site whose land, Lee said, “costs seven times more,” than the rural site.
That number is misleading.
Engineers figure the difference in cost between the two sites is about $300,000 when considering the expense of extending utilities to the north of town.
Lee also said the downtown site is “landlocked,” preventing opportunities for other medical entities to locate there.
David Wright, architect for the project, said the downtown site would have a total of 19.2 acres for development. The hospital would need eight acres.
“We should have plenty of room for expansion,” Wright said, including the addition of a clinic for veterans if it materializes.
The site north of town was 25 acres.
Lee then accused trustees of being manipulated by “a few people with money and influence,” referring to the doctors and pharmacists who together built the $3.5 million complex that houses a physicians’ clinic, a drive-through pharmacy and a dental clinic operated through the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
Those doctors and pharmacists —  Drs. Brian Wolfe, Glen Singer, Frank Porter, Tim Spears and Becky Lohman and pharmacists Jeff Dieker, Bill Walden and Jim Bauer — form the Iola Medical Developers. The group appealed to trustees at their April 19 meeting to build the hospital near their development on East Street in the hopes of creating a medical complex that would include a medical arts building to provide facilities for visiting specialists.
The outpatient clinic would be funded separately from the hospital. A Register story last week said hospital executives would work in concert with local investors to build the clinic. That was in error. Joyce Heismeyer, chief executive officer of Allen County Hospital, said the hospital will have no role in helping with the funding of a clinic for specialists.
At Tuesday night’s meeting Wolfe said the hope was that people “all across the medical community” would want to participate in the outpatient clinic.
“We don’t want this to be an extension of Iola Medical Developers,” Wolfe said. “We’re excited to see who else will come on board. Right now we’re in talks with another local practice who has interest in locating ” in a new facility.
The outpatient clinic would serve as the site for specialists such as orthopedists, cardiologists, neurologists and the like, to treat local patients. It could also include offices for local practitioners if they so choose.
That concerted effort by members of the local medical community to invest in an outpatient clinic is what swayed a number of hospital trustees to locate the new hospital in town.
Walden, a pharmacist, said those with IMD would be willing to work toward securing funds for the outpatient clinic if it could be on grounds in the vicinity of the new pharmacy on East Street.
Lee, meanwhile, perceived the nearby presence of local practices as a threat to hospital profits.
“They will rob away some of the hospital’s revenue,” he said.
Hospital trustee Sean McReynolds, a Humboldt dentist, saw it differently.
“The farther away your medical community is from the hospital, the more they’re likely to compete for its services,” he said. “It’s all about patients. They’re less likely to get tests in a doctor’s office if they can get them right across the street in a state-of-the art hospital. A hospital campus is the best way to meet patient needs.”
Heismeyer said 22 percent of the hospital’s net revenue is garnered through outpatient imaging and lab work.
Trustee Tom Miller wondered what would prevent any health care provider from locating across from the new hospital and competing with it.
Lee ended his presentation admonishing trustees that they need to “repair the chink in your public relations” armor.
When asked by fellow trustee Patti Boyd what they should do, Lee didn’t have an answer.

Margaret Lesher, a nurse practioner with Drs. Wes Stone and Earl Walter, also voiced her opposition to the East Street site. Contaminants on the site were her main concern and the contention that if the hospital were built on Oregon Road it would attract new businesses such as restaurants to that area that is now cornfields to the north and a dairy to the south.
Lesher, Yates Center, said she feared for her elderly mother if the hospital were located in town.
“Little old people will get smacked by a Mac truck coming off 169,” she said of the downtown site that is positioned about one-half mile to the west of the intersection of U.S. highways 54 and 169.
Lesher also commented on the extra work necessary to deal with the contaminated soil, saying it had to be hauled out of state. Phil Schultze an engineer with Murray Construction, quashed that, saying the soil stayed on site and would be capped either with clean soil or by six inches of asphalt for parking lots.
Regular testing by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will ensure the continued safety of soil, Schultze said, just as it does for Citizens Bank, Iola Medical Developers, the Super 8 Motel, Jump Start Travel Center and Sterling Six Cinemas.
Carolyn McLean, Iola, worried about a hospital with no basement, in Kansas, of all places.
Architect Wright explained that a 1,000-square-foot safe room will be included in the new hospital. The room, which will meet federal safety standards, will be able to accommodate 15 gurneys, 15 wheelchairs and 15 people.
Also in the audience was Dr. Stone of Via Christi Medical Associates who is in practice with Dr. Earl Walter on South Washington Street.
Stone said his impression from contacts was that most preferred the rural location of the hospital.
Mary Ann Arnott, who served on a commission designated by Allen County commissioners to study the hospital issue last year said the overwhelming choice from across the county was the East Street site.
“I cannot recall anybody ever saying ‘Ugh, that land is contaminated,’” she said. “Most said that seemed the logical site.”
Seventy percent of county voters approved the quarter-cent sales tax to help fund the new hospital, Arnott said. At the time of the vote, the East Street site was assumed by most.
Stone asked if the ultimate decision for the site is up to county commissioners.
Alan Weber, county counselor, said “No, the county commissioners have given that responsibility to these trustees. They recognize that the other businesses in the area have successfully completed remediation of their soil and realize that, yes, it incurs some expense, but it is not going to get in the way of the project.”
Lesher remarked that trustees seem to be going against the majority of sentiments expressed in favor of the rural site.
Boyd said that she had received “maybe 25 responses,” when trustees changed the site to the north of town at their April 5 meeting and that of those “not a lot of concern was expressed about the contamination. But considerable concern was about the cost of the land and ‘those greedy landowners,’” who initially stalled the purchase of their property. Today, only Eldon Strickler of Colony has not agreed to sell his property. The county initiated eminent domain to obtain his three acres earlier this week.

IN OTHER news from the night, the hope is getting stronger that construction can begin this fall.
Trustees approved the environmental engineering firm of Terracon to begin the multi-tiered process of evaluating and remediating the tainted soil. The engineers will work hand-in-hand with those from Murray Construction to meet the KDHE guidelines of the Voluntary Cleanup Plan.
So far, the various steps are falling into place, Schultze said.
The possibility of a  Veterans Administration clinic and veterans home locating in Iola was explained by McLean. Proposals for the two facilities will be brought before the June 3-4 convention of the Department of Kansas, Veterans of Foreign Wars in Great Bend. VFW members will vote whether to undertake the two projects, McLean said.
Ideally, the outpatient clinic for veterans will be situated close to the new hospital, McLean said. The architect assured her the East Street site has ample room for the additional clinic.
Next week’s meeting will include drawings of the medical complex and whether the hospital would be best situated to the north or to the south of Monroe Street, which intersects the 11 parcels of land. The meeting will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m.  in the basement of the hospital and is open to the public.

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