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Hospital looks at new location in 5-10 years

When Harrison County Hospital administrators look at what their long-range needs are, they now look one place: elsewhere.
The present hospital on Atwood Street in south Corydon is too small, it’s landlocked with no place to grow, and much of the infrastructure is worn out. So chief executive officer Steve Taylor, chief financial officer Jeff Davis and the HCH board of directors are looking at other properties in Corydon that could accommodate a new $5 million ambulatory surgical center now being planned and, later, other areas of potential growth, like an outpatient center, Emergency Room, or ambulatory care center for sub-specialty services, for example.
If all goes as planned — and it never does, Taylor cautioned — the hospital could be ready to move into a new $28 million to $30 million facility five years from now at the earliest, perhaps 10 years at the latest.
The hospital search for a new location is not new. Hospital officials started thinking about a new place for an outpatient clinic or ambulatory surgery center 11 years ago. They even looked at what would become the Harrison County Justice Center site in Corydon. Six years ago they did a 12-month evaluation of a 40-acre site near the May and Joe Rhodes Memorial Pool and Bob Lynn’s Homestead Manor residential development in north Corydon for a medical office building.
But the search for new property seems to have intensified lately. Hospital officials have looked at perhaps a dozen sites, four or five seriously, Taylor said.
Several locations look inviting, especially around the Wal-Mart Supercenter and Interstate 64, because the land is close to state roads 337 and 135 and the I-64 traffic arteries, large population centers and a commercial district, and several properties are on the market.
“We need at least 30 acres for future development,” Taylor said.
Traffic congestion could be a huge problem in the area, especially for emergency vehicles, unless more roads are built by developers, as expected, behind the Supercenter.
Taylor, chief executive officer for 13 years, said the hospital can’t expand in its present location because:
1. It’s locked into a residential area, and it’s hard to acquire more residential property (three or four have been purchased) and go up against covenants and zoning.
2. Access, roads and infrastructure are limiting factors. An inadequate water supply at the top of the hill would eventually require a water storage tank.
3. “Visibility, demographics and mobility.” The county is growing fast but away from the hospital site, and from a competition standpoint, Taylor said, the hospital wants to be in a visible, easily accessed place where the people are. Close proximity to a bustling commercial area is also a plus.
Davis said hospital officials, in evaluating facility needs, realized they could invest millions of dollars to achieve state standards at the present site but “still have all the same limitations this site has.” The lengthy construction process would be a nuisance for everyone involved.
Hospital officials know there will be opposition to a move. One reason is sentimental. Many people have strong emotional attachments to the present building, including Davis. “I was born in this room,” he said Thursday, referring to the board room which used to be a delivery room. “Dr. Dukes was the doctor, but I don’t remember any of it,” he mused.
Taylor said the real key to extensive hospital growth comes from medical staff development. “We’ve been real successful at recruiting,” he said. In the last decade, the hospital has attracted 19 new physicians.
In 1980, there were six doctors on staff. Now, there are 27 full-time doctors, and that doesn’t count specialty referral doctors.
“We’re driven by what the medical staff wants,” Davis said, and the doctors have resolved, as a group, for the first time in 13 years, that it’s important to build a new hospital. They noted that the present infrastructure is worn out, the hospital’s in a bad location, and the hospital must grow. New doctors and patients will not be attracted to outmoded facilities.
The hospital has wanted to add a new ambulatory surgery center to replace its cramped facilities (built in 1965), but, Taylor said, “It won’t fit here.” The surgery center now does about 10 surgeries a day and can’t handle more. The surgery center and the South Wing “have been well-maintained, but they’re functionally obsolete,” Taylor said.
Davis said it would cost $5 million to $6 million to build a surgery center at the present site, but HCH might save $1 million if it built elsewhere.
A hospital board working sheet says a 10-year modernization program, with new boilers, plumbing, generators and so forth, could approach the cost of a new hospital.
Taylor said about 80 percent of the operations at the hospital are now one-day outpatient surgeries, thus the need for an outpatient center. HCH now competes with Louisville surgery centers for things like obstetrics, gynecology and general surgery, although it has been hard.
He said there is a large market for HCH to compete with other referral or sub-specialists like OB-GYN, obstetricians, general surgeons, urologists, and ear, nose and throat doctors (ENTs) in the Falls Cities area.
Taylor said the county commissioners have been apprised of HCH surgery center plans, and they approve “conceptually,” but the county council has not yet been approached and won’t be until all the financial plans have been figured out, probably early in the new year.
Historically, the county, which owns the hospital, has paid for hospital improvements, but since 1965, the hospital has received no county funds for operational expenses, although in 1972 the county floated a 20-year bond issue for the medical-surgical building, which was paid off early.
Taylor and Davis are paid by Alliant, which, through a management agreement, provides specialized expertise, consultation, guidance and direction to the hospital board, which has ultimate responsibility for the policies and direction of the hospital.
About half the cost of the first expansion project will come from hospital operations, and the county will be asked to pay for the other half, although Davis cautioned, again, “This is very, very preliminary.”
Taylor said that with low interest rates, Caesars’ tax revenues, the hospital’s excellent financial performance the past 15 years and its low “debt to equity ratio,” this may be a good time to act.
A new building would probably contribute to job creation. Taylor said 100 new jobs have been created the past 10 years with an average wage of $35,000.
The members of the hospital board are: Parvin Baumgart, now in his 36th year, mostly as chair; Pete Martin, who has served 25 years; Lowell Smith, Fred Owen, Mark Gregory, Debbie Gibson, R.N., and Dr. Richard Brown. All are appointed by the county commissioners to four-year terms.