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Hospital buys land for new facility

Harrison County Hospital has completed the purchase of acreage for a new $33 million facility between S.R. 337 and the Corydon-Ramsey Road, just south of the Interstate 64 west of Corydon.
But several key questions remain unanswered.
Corydon’s inability to provide sewer service to the new location is a key concern, but that’s a problem the hospital has known all along.
“They were aware when they bought that ground it is out of our sewer system,” said Corydon Town Council President Fred Cammack. “We decided almost three years ago not to extend service to areas not in our water system. We established that policy a long time ago, and they were aware of that.”
Cammack said once all of the areas that qualify for sewer coverage have been developed, the town will be out of capacity.
Steve Taylor, director and chief executive officer of the hospital, said the alternative would be to install a private sewage treatment facility or form a cooperative effort with other developers who have expressed interest.
Planning for the hospital and medical office complex is forging ahead without an assurance of financial backing from the county.
The land purchase, about 14.5 acres from Paul Scharf of Corydon and another 23.5 acres from the Yetter family, totals about $650,000, which, Taylor said, the hospital believes is a fair price. If another site is selected down the road, the hospital board believes it could sell the 38 acres.
HCH plans to cover about half the $33 million project with patient revenue and has asked for the balance from riverboat revenue: $1.5 million a year for 10 years and then $1 million a year to supplement a bond issue for construction.
The hospital doesn’t want the venture to wind up on the tax rolls. Early predictions were that the average homeowner would pay an extra $25 to $35 a year in property taxes.
“We’re going to do everything we can not to have a property tax rate,” Taylor said. “We want to do something in conjunction with the county.
“We think it’s important to have the county involved, and that they support the efforts of the organization.”
In part, that’s because it’s an economic opportunity issue: the hospital currently provides about 400 jobs with an annual payroll of $13 million.
In 1981, the hospital had six doctors on the active staff; by 2001, that number was 27.
“In that time, the medical staff grew about 400 percent. That’s really amazing, considering the county’s population grew 50 percent,” Taylor said. “It’s obvious now we’re taking care of a much larger percentage of the population.”
The Harrison County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution of support of the hospital plans last September, but one of the commissioners was not re-elected in November and another commissioner still on the board, J.R. Eckart, had abstained when the resolution was passed. At the time, Eckart said he needed more time to study the hospital’s figures.
“The reality is, it doesn’t make any difference what the commissioners do, if the council doesn’t approve the financing,” said council chair Gary Davis.
Since the election, Davis said a hospital contingent has been meeting individually with commissioners and council members to discuss the issue, but Davis said he doesn’t believe those talks have made a difference.
“I think we had a meeting and exchanged views, but I don’t think the meeting acomplished anything,” he said. “My position all along is that we don’t have enough information to make a decision. I don’t think we’ve gotten adequate information that shows we should even build a new hospital.
“We have not seen the numbers.”
Davis said he isn’t convinced the hospital shouldn’t enter into a partnership with another, such as Jewish Hospital, on the venture.
“I don’t believe that going it alone is the right thing to do,” Davis said. “I think the hospital has a negative reputation in the community, and I don’t think building a new building is going to change that.”
Improved marketing and affiliating with a Louisville-based hospital would give the hospital access to expertise “we could never afford on our own,” Davis said.
Taylor said the hospital has had just such an affiliation with Norton Hospital for more than 20 years, and joining forces with another hospital isn’t out of the question.
“A central issue here is ownership,” Taylor said, adding that there is misconception as to what a partnership would mean. “No one would write a check for $10 million or $15 million and walk away,” Taylor said. “That is certainly not the way it works.”
He said Jewish or any other hospital that invested in the venture would be obligated to make a return on the investments that would benefit Jewish and its patients.