SPH gets go-ahead to expand

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2007

More than 26 percent of the registered voters in the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area have spoken. And, although it was a close vote, the majority gave approval for the hospital’s second phase of construction. Results of the special election, which was done by mail-in ballot, will go before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for certification at the assembly’s meeting Tuesday.

Ballots were mailed in mid-April and voters had until 5 p.m. May 8 to return them to the borough. Elections results were posted on the borough’s Web site shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday

“It passed, which was what I was hoping for. I was keeping my fingers crossed,” said Charlie Franz, the hospital’s CEO. “I’m not sure I can say I was expecting it. I figured it would be very close.”

A total of 2,620 votes were cast. The majority, 51.44 percent, voted in favor of the continued hospital expansion; 48.56 percent voted against it. A breakdown of votes in the service area, which stretches almost as far as Clam Gulch to the north and south to Homer and communities along the north shore of Kachemak Bay was as follows:

Overall: 1324 yes, 1267 no

Anchor Point: 127 yes, 176 no

Diamond Ridge: 143 yes, 142 no

Homer No. 1: 342 yes, 290 no

Homer No. 2: 294 yes, 244 no

Kasilof: 5 yes, 8 no

Kachemak Bay: 59 yes, 64 no

Kachemak City — Fritz Creek: 249 yes, 184 no

Ninilchik: 123 yes, 159 no

The $15.6-million project will add a new patient wing, single-occupancy rooms, a helicopter landing pad, expanded surgery and outpatient area, a new safe room, upgraded and relocated laboratory and pharmacy and additional parking. It also is anticipated to add an estimated .98 mill rate increase, or approximately $98 for every $100,000 of assessed property value. With the average borough home assessed at $195,000, the estimated average annual tax increase would be $190.

“Anytime we’re asking taxpayers to tax themselves more, that is asking them to make a big commitment,” Franz said. “I think people look at that very carefully and you just never know how a vote is going to turn out.”

The number of votes cast was encouraging to Franz.

“The turnout is greater than you get in an annual election. Statewide is about 22 percent when we’re electing a governor. So, I felt pretty good about that, that folks took enough interest in health care issues that they took the time to vote,” Franz said.

Derotha Ferraro, the hospital’s marketing coordinator, kept a close eye on the borough’s Web site, waiting for the results to be posted.

“I was thinking, ‘How many times can I visit this stupid Web site,’” she said, laughing.

Opposition to the hospital expansion reflected by voting precincts north of Homer didn’t surprise Ferraro.

“When you’re in downtown Homer and need hospital care, we’re the hospital. But when you’re in Ninilchik and it’s a shorter distance to Central Peninsula Hospital, that might be your primary hospital,” Ferraro said.

Just 15 miles north of Homer, Anchor Point’s opposition to the project caught Anchor Point EMS Chief Maureen Tracy off guard.

“I’m excited that (the expansion) will move forward, but I’m surprised about our area not voting for it,” she said. “The ‘no’ votes mean there’s more work for the hospital administration.”

“The hospital needs to very clearly understand those voters concerns and take action on those concerns,” Ferraro said.

Barbara Howard, chairman of the hospital’s service area advisory board, agreed.

“It’s a challenge now for us to honor those ‘no’ votes in some fashion, to saw we know you voted ‘no’ but we’re still going to go ahead with the expansion and try to upgrade the medical facilities and services for the community,” Howard said.

Once the vote is certified, the project will go out for bid.

“The whole goal is to get it into this construction season to save several million dollars,” Ferraro said. “And I know it’s a priority of the mayor’s office, to keep it at the top of the ‘to do’ list.”’

Franz’ message to those that supported the project was one of appreciation for the vote of confidence.

“We appreciate it. We’re going to do our best to show you we can make this work and will make it work,” he said. “And the same message goes to those that voted ‘no.’ The people who voted ‘no’ had concerns about the hospital, the need for growth, the financial viability of the project. I think that makes it even more important for the management team at the hospital to do our very best to demonstrate the value of this project to the community. We’re really going to have to knuckle down and to our best.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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