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Hospital advised to sell its plan

Following a lengthy presentation and a ‘healthy’ exchange of ideas last week at Harrison County Hospital in Corydon, most of the community and government leaders invited to serve on a hospital task force either approved the concept of a new hospital outright or did so with reservations.
Those reservations apparently stem from a perceived need to get the word out so Harrison County residents can understand the hospital’s reasons for wanting a new facility, what that facility should be like, and how it would be financed.
‘If they really want to accomplish things, they need to go to the public,’ said J. Gordon Pendleton, a retired banker and chair of the Harrison County Community Foundation. He was one of several people invited to serve on the hospital task force.
If regional meetings are held, but no one attends, then ‘at least you are on record for having one,’ Pendleton said.
The hospital wants to build a $36 million facility in northwest Corydon, on land purchased near Interstate 64. The loan would be financed by the hospital with about half the loan to be paid with riverboat revenue (about $1.25 million a year). To get the best rates, the bond issue would be backed with a property tax rate which could be levied if the riverboat failed to produce the needed funds.
Another attendee, Judy Hess of Corydon, who works for Caesars Indiana at Bridgeport and is a Foundation director, said public support for the project would likely get a boost if the public knew the details.
Ideally, the council and hospital would work as partners in the new venture, Hess and others said.
‘I do trust this board,’ she said. ‘I also trust the council.’
Hess said, ‘I want us to have a new facility, but I don’t want a battle over it.’
Apparently, it’s too late for that. The skirmishes have already begun.
The rift between hospital officials and council chair Gary Davis seemed to widen, as Davis left the conference room following a sharp exchange with the moderator, Ed Vaughn.
No one had come up with a plan to get the hospital and council to join forces. Vaughn, retired president of the Baptist Health Systems of Kentucky, said, ‘I’m going to crawl out on a limb, but I think there is something you all need to know:
‘I assure you efforts have been made to inform leadership in the county of what was going on,’ Vaughn said, adding that others in the room were ‘too nice’ to place blame where he said it belonged. In previous meetings about the hospital plans, Vaughn said Davis attended but wasn’t interested in hearing what was said.
‘He absolutely refused to listen … about the need for this hospital,’ Vaughn charged. ‘He has been totally closed minded.’
Davis replied, sharply: ‘I think the fact is that what you have just said is not true.
‘Only I know what my position is.’
Earlier, Davis had said the hospital task force gathering was another way the hospital was trying to pressure the council into approving riverboat funds for the project, without providing information the council needs to make an informed decision.
That includes what sort of medical care and facility Harrison County’s aging population will need most in the future, he said.
Davis said Monday night the four-man council committee that he appointed last month is negotiating to bring an outside expert in to develop a request for proposals that would give the council the information it needs to make a decision.
Others at the hospital meeting believe the hospital already has that information, but it’s not getting it out to the public as it should.
The information presented at Tuesday night’s session would do much to help the public understand the need, Hess said. ‘I think it would be great if they could see what we saw tonight.’
She suggested at least three public meetings, in the north, central and southern parts of the county. ‘I think people would appreciate the effort,’ she said.
In a later interview, Hess said she believes a new facility is needed because the current one, built in 1950, is archaic in places, and she doesn’t like where it’s located, off Atwood Street in a residential area in south Corydon. That forces most ambulances responding to emergencies to go through downtown Corydon on the way to or from the hospital.
‘I don’t like the E.R. ripping through town,’ she said, adding also that the hospital has simply outgrown its present location.
Pendleton said the hospital and the county council need to commission a joint, independent study to determine what is needed and how it should or could be financed.
‘If it really came down to it, the hospital board doesn’t trust the council,’ Pendleton said, speaking as candidly as others did at the meeting. ‘The council doesn’t trust the hospital board.
‘It has to be a compromise.’
Councilman Kenneth Saulman said officials had asked the hospital board to build a consensus regarding its need to relocate and expand, but that hasn’t happened.
‘I don’t think any of us are against it,’ Saulman said. ‘I have family, too … ‘
Vaughn said there is another method the hospital could use if the county decides it wants to be out of the hospital business.
‘You could create a not-for-profit entity and give it to this board to run,’ he suggested. ‘That way, the board can do what it believes is in the best interest of the community to provide health care.’
In a statement released following the meeting by hospital board chair Parvin Baumgart, CEO Steve Taylor and Dr. Stephen Bodney, chief of the medical staff at HCH, the officials said:
‘Although we have spent countless hours of study and evaluation developing our plan for HCH’s future, we are open minded toward any legitimate suggestions to improve our plan.
‘Our planning process centers around using research data from our industry and the community we serve … Although we have a fairly complete conceptual plan, we need to work through many more details as this process proceeds.
‘If we were to alter our mission and eliminate some unprofitable services we provide to the community (for example, indigent care), we could finance a smaller scale facility ourselves.
‘We don’t think this is the right thing to do for Harrison County. With only a five percent infusion of gaming tax money, we could wisely reinvest our earnings in technology, staff and new service development to enhance not only our financial position, but the quality of life of so many. We do a lot here: save lives, change lives through early detection and wellness programs, deliver quality healthcare, and remain an anchor for Harrison County’s economy.’
The statement also said the hospital hopes to keep the advisory group in place for future communications and developments.
Others present at last week’s meeting included: Parvin Baumgart, Fred Owen, Dr. Richard Brown, Dr. Stephen Bodney, Dr. John McCullum, J.R. Eckart, Pam Bennett Martin, Bill Taylor, Paul Beckort, Sam Eckart, Steve Taylor, Jeff Davis, Joan Schickel, Denise Orwick, Diane Miller, Terry Miller, Maynard Lambertus, Danny Utz and Jim Heitkemper.