Proponents of hospital bond argue their case

October 15, 2013 11:41 pm

“The General” is running out of time. At least that is the message from supporters of the Nov. 5 bond measure to construct a new hospital in Gold Beach. 

“We have a three-year waiver until the summer of 2016,” said Dale Thomas, co-chairman of the Friends of Curry General Hospital PAC. “We will not meet codes once the grandfather clause expires.”

Thomas said that if the hospital is not replaced, it is highly likely the state will shut it down because the 60-year-old facility is not up to code. And with repairing the current facility not financially feasible, it is more effective to build a new hospital on the site of the current one, keeping the old one open as a new hospital is built. 

Residents within the hospital district, which stretches from Pistol River to Port Orford, will vote on a hospital bond measure. Curry County residents living outside the district don’t have a say.

“If the bond measure doesn’t pass, a lot of things will go away,” said Andrew Bair, CEO of Curry Health Network, which oversees Curry General Hospital, and clinics in Brookings and Port Orford. 

“This hospital here is out of compliance with a lot of building codes. We know the state’s fire marshal and health inspector will be back in three years and we don’t want to have it closed,” he said.

Curry General Hospital already had to shut down its operating room for two months over the summer because it was out of compliance with the state.

 The closure which Bair said cost the hospital $600,000 in lost revenue. 

The special district that will be voting stretches from Pistol River north to Elk River. People south of Pistol River, including Brookings, will not be voting on the ballot question. 

The tax measure will raise district property taxes 74 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Bair said he expects the measure to raise approximately $10 million, which will be matched with federal funds to build a $20 million facility. Funds would also be used to make improvements at Curry Health Network’s clinic in Port Orford, increasing the number of hours it would be open, specialists who visit it, walk-in visits, and free sports physicals. Bond money would not be spent on anything except building the new hospital or improving Port Orford’s clinic.

If the measure passes, construction would start on the new hospital in spring of 2014, with a move to the new facility by the spring of 2016, just before state inspectors could potentially shut the hospital down. 

“It’s among the last critical access hospitals in the state of Oregon to be replaced,” Thomas said. 

Curry General Hospital is the largest employer in Gold Beach and if the hospital closed, not only would the jobs leave, the number of students in schools would drop and the cost and travel time to reach medical services would increase. 

Without a hospital in Gold Beach, residents there would lose the so-called “golden hour,” with those suffering traumatic injuries or heart attacks unable to reach medical services within the optimal 60 minutes when life saving measures are the most effective. 

Thomas said that the hospital would be able to attract more health professionals to a new facility, and it would help the hospital attract and retain residents there. He also said a new facility could help generate more services and profits, which could allow the hospital to potentially have services such as dialysis, which many in the community have requested. 

Without the new hospital, the Curry Health Network-run Brookings clinic would also have no chance at getting an emergency room or hospital beds of its own, Thomas said.

Competing with other tax measures

Bair said the board decided to put the tax measure on the ballot this year because it felt it could not wait. It is thought that having numerous competing tax measures on the ballot decreases the likelihood that any of them will pass. The county is attempting to pass tax measure 8-73, which will fund law enforcement services at the county and prevent it from going into bankruptcy. Port Orford is also being asked to vote on another tax levy to fund its police department. 

“I don’t have the luxury of waiting,” Bair said. “I had some good people ask us to wait, but with the recent health department visit, I don’t know if we have the time.”

Voters could receive their ballots as early as this Saturday or next week. 

A public forum about the hospital tax measure will be held at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, at the Gold Beach City Hall.