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December 2002
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Health Center Building Project update

On November 20th, over 50 Islanders assembled at Peaine Township Hall for an update on the new Medical Center–the second chance for community input on the plans. After Gary Damstra welcomed the group, Don Spenser gave a brief overview of how the project has come this far. It began with a Task Force in 1999, he said, which studied the Island's medical needs. It quickly became obvious that a new Medical Center would be the best solution to our shortcomings. A $2,000,000 grant was obtained, but almost before we could celebrate it was vetoed by the governor. Thanks to some astute lobbying, $1,500,000 was reinstated, and property for the facility was donated by Jeff Traudt. A donation of $30,000 funded a study that set the needed size. Three architectural firms specializing in medical facilities were interviewed and Hobbs & Black was selected. The drawings the project architect, Kevin Kerschbaum, presented represented the 4th draft.

Mr. Kerschbaum took the floor to talk about the site plan, floor plan, and a rendering which were displayed in large format on easels. The site plan showed the eventual outcome of several stages of construction, which would start with a 7,600 ft2 medical center, followed by the first of 3 six-unit connected Senior Housing buildings. The driveway for patients was separate from the one for the EMS and the staff (which would come over Carlyle Avenue) and from the one for the nearby senior housing. Most of the intervening space was kept wooded, although it later transpired that some of this greenbelt would have to yield to septic fields.

The floor plan showed a large one-story building on a slab, with a central hallway lit by clerestories and subsidiary halls. The EMS would enter from the east, medical patients from the north, and dental patients from the south. A lot of thought went into arranging the over-thirty rooms to maximize patients' privacy.
The rendering showed a building with much fixed glass. It endeavored to use “local low-maintenance materials, such as cedar shake siding, and to fit in with the established Island architectural motifs,” which the architect reviewed.

When the meeting was opened for questions, several hands were raised. People wanted to know about operating costs. Seventy percent of the current operating budget is for staff, which was not expected to expand, so that part would follow a normal curve, it was said. And the balance might remain reasonable, because the larger space would be offset by better materials and controllable heating zones. $200,000 of the grant is expected to be left after construction, and the interest from this could help defray operating costs. In addition, improved billing and coding systems will increase the income derived from each patient encounter, and more money will come in from the gradual growth of the Island. Still, one voice expressed the idea that costs would inevitably go up, and since there is no firm plan (other than to apply for grants and launch a capital campaign) to meet them, this would inevitably become a tax liability to the Island.

In response to a question about the recent dispute with the EMS, it was pointed out that Joe Moore had been at the previous day's Med Center Board meeting, and the improved communication was allowing each to understand the other’s viewpoint so they could move closer to a solution. Part of the problem was that the EMS was not directly solicited for design input, and they began to feel left out, but at this point their absolutely indispensable value was acknowledged. As for their being excluded from occupying the new facility, it was pointed out that they typically are located at fire departments or in their own building, not at hospitals, and thus the architects were not directed to consider facilities for EMS during the design and planning process.

Another bevy of questions concerned the omission of an ICU. Sometimes the weather simply won't let anyone fly, it was pointed out (we might have 20 situations a year that require air evacuation), and if this happens we'd better be well-prepared to keep a victim alive until the weather breaks. The answer was that the new facility will eventually be equipped to do this; idiosyncrasies in the rules keep rooms from being labeled as ICU even when they are being designed to function as such. This is similar to how the Med Center was originally classified as a hospital, but lost that designation when rules and scrutiny were upgraded even though nothing about its service changed at that time.

Another question concerned equipping the new building. This problem has not been solved, it was said, but avenues are being pursued. Munson, for example, has promised to help, as will other hospitals.

Although this meeting was not intended to receive questions about the recent hiring of Arlene Brennan, several people were interested in this topic. It was said that her appointment was suggested by the State and mandated by the Townships, and that she has sufficient connections and expertise to bring enough bounty our way to more than justify her selection. Eula Thomas, who has 27 years of successful medical and business management expertise and has volunteered at the Medical Center for over a year now, said she had received many phone calls from Island residents concerned about this project, and wanted them to know she had offered to assume responsibility for completing many of the time-consuming requirements mandated by state and federal guidelines. She said it was an honor to have the ability to offer these services as her gift, free of charge, in an effort to eliminate unnecessary expenditures. After Arlene Brennen was rehired, she met with Don Spencer to reiterate her interest in decreasing costs by assisting during this transitional period in any way possible, and was asked if she would follow through even though Arlene would still be paid the contracted amount (our expenditure for the consultant at this point has become $160,000.) There was an undercurrent of hope that we can learn from this entire experience to do a better job of taking advantage of our local resources such as the way the problem of operating the X-ray machine was solved by locating Barb Kenwabakise.

The next step is to finish the plans by mid-January so it can go out on bids. Hopefully a contractor will be chosen and construction begun by mid-April, and the facility occupied in January of 2004.

Click Here to View a Larger Version of the Floor Plan and Site Plan for the new Beaver Island Rural Health Center

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