Hospital board nixes money for Health Centers facility

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Central Peninsula General Hospital board of directors denied a $50,000 grant request to build a new facility to serve the under- and uninsured, after the request drew strong opposition from physicians at a board meeting Thursday.

“The physicians came out in force in opposition to this,” said Chief Executive Officer Dave Gilbreath.

Central Peninsula Health Centers requested the $50,000 grant to help fund the building of an $11 million facility to jointly house the Cottonwood Health Center, Central Peninsula Counseling Services and CPHC and CPCS administration at the corner of Marydale Avenue and Tyee Street in Soldotna.

“It was a contentious issue between the physicians and the Cottonwood leadership,” Gilbreath said.

The largest space in the building project, 14,000 square feet, would be used to house the Cottonwood Health Center.

Physicians contend the grant would be an inefficient use of federal money and that the 31,000-square-foot facility is excessively big.

“They seem to run fairly inefficiently,” said Alex Russell, a private pediatrician who has been on the medical staff at CPGH since 1976. “They’ve got a lot of people working for them. I know the private clinics couldn’t afford to do that.”

Some feel, however, that the grant request has been unfairly spun as a for or against Cottonwood Health Center issue.

“It needs to be you’re for the appropriate-sized Cottonwood,” said Jeff McDonald, a private physician on the medical staff at CPGH.

“If you’re building something six times the size of the largest clinic on the peninsula, that seems a little odd to me.”

But project leaders say current clinic spaces are too small and that the administrative needs for nonprofit clinics are greater than they are for private clinics due to strict government accountability requirements.

The Cottonwood Health Clinic, which operates out of an approximately 6,000-square-foot space, is struggling to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients it serves, said Jeanne Maltby, the project manager.

In 2002, 2,300 people used the Cottonwood Health Clinic. By 2005 the number of people using it grew to 3,751. And by 2008 CPHC predicts 5,400 people will use it.

“There’s no way we can see 5,400 people in the clinic we’re in now,” she said. “That would be impossible.”

In addition, the need for the clinic and the counseling service is becoming more acute as an increasingly larger percent of the people visiting the clinics are uninsured, she said.

Approximately 20.4 percent of central peninsula residents have no insurance, said Stan Steadman, executive director of CPHC.

“There’s quite a population base out there that we know is in need of a primary care medical home,” he said.

Although physicians agreed the clinics fill a valuable role in the community, they also said they were uncomfortable with the hospital board funding an outside project.

“I’ve never known the hospital board to put money into something like that,” Russell said. “Historically the hospital has not given money to outside projects.”

McDonald said that, although he supports the clinics, he, too, felt it was not the hospital board’s place to fund the building project.

“I think the hospital’s priority needs to be the best possible care at CPGH and not necessarily funding outside projects no matter how worthy,” he said.

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