District sends $10 million hospital bond to the voters

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer July 09, 2013 08:17 pm

Curry Health Network will ask voters in its district this November to approve a $10 million general obligation bond to pay for a new hospital.

The exact location of a new facility has yet to be determined, officials said.

If the bond question is approved, the district will be eligible for a matching, low-interest USDA loan — and hopes to open the doors to a new facility in four to five years.

A $10 million, 30-year general obligation bond would cost property owners in the district 74 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation, said Director Andrew Bair. Additionally, each tax-paying property owner in the district would receive a $150 voucher each year for five years good for services in the network.

“We’re trying to get creative and cushion the blow,” Bair said. “The general obligation bond is only half of it. This is a big deal. We have a lot of work to do.”

For starters, the $20 million figure is a rough estimate, Bair said. But it’s comparable to costs of similar facilities built throughout the United States.

The need to replace the hospital is apparent: the 60-year-old facility is small, not patient-friendly and lacks some medical amenities a new one would feature.

Among the details to be worked out include whether a new facility can be built at the same location, as most of Ellensburg Avenue lies in the tsunami inundation zone. Curry General Hospital is located almost a block off the highway on Fourth Street.

“There’s lots of people who say it can’t be built (on its current site),” Bair said. “But we think we can. If the Cascadia tsunami hits, we’ve got more issues than the location of a hospital. There’s a lot of anxiety around that, but if you take the effect of the ‘Big One,’ it pretty much decimates everything.”

Regardless of location, officials also have to determine need — both current and future — of the services offered, and not just for patients. Bair noted that the physical state of the hospital is critical to attracting new physicians to the area, as well.

“People come here for an interview, and they come into the existing facility and are disappointed with what we have to work with,” he said. “It’s critical for attracting the kind of health care providers we need. We have several retiring in the next five to 10 years; we need to attract others to carry on.”

Without a new facility, Bair isn’t sure about the future of medical services in the area.

“Then we really have to think about what we’re going to do here as far as having an emergency room and inpatient services,” he said. “It’s time. It’s essential for the economics of this town to have a good facility.”

He said he realized asking voters for a property tax increase at a time when the nation’s economic outlook is creeping along at a snail’s pace — and when the county itself might ask again for a property tax increase for public safety services — will be a challenge.

“You hate to put people on that spot,” he said. “We have to help them prioritize, talk about what an obligation bond looks like, how not having one might be an impediment. We’ve got to take a look at this. We can’t go forward building a new hospital without any idea of funding.”

Bair said hospital officials plan to meet with county commissioners about coordinating a possible general obligation bond question and the timing of other possible ballot issues.

“Everybody’s got their hand out,” he said. “We’re asking for people to tax themselves like they haven’t before.”

Bair said the community is lucky to have had the old wooden hospital last this long.

“It’s a ... different kind of place. But it’s lasted about as long as it can. It could last another half-decade, but after that, all bets are off. The clock’s ticking on this building.”