CEO hits road to inform voters of hospital expansion benefits

Posted: Monday, September 08, 2003

In a little more than a month, a Kenai Peninsula Borough ballot will offer voters the chance to choose or decline a bond referendum that would pay to expand Central Peninsula General Hospi-tal.

The project will cost $49.9 million and will expand the Soldotna facility by creating a new two-story tower and basement on the north side of the medical campus. The result will add 42,000 square feet to create a facility of approximately 137,000 square feet.

Because patient revenue estimates fall short of their target, officials project a mill increase of approximately 0.5 over a 20-year term to help fund the expansion plan.

The borough assembly approved adding the measure to the October ballot in June, and since then, hospital CEO David Gilbreath has been on a crusade to get the word out about what is coming.

"I've probably talked to 50 or 60 groups," he said. "And we're going to try to reach other groups if we haven't gotten in touch with them."

Gilbreath said his strategy until election day, Oct. 7, is to explain to voters the needs the community has for the larger facility and to answer the public's questions.

"This hospital has not kept pace with the growth of the community," he said. "The population is going to continue to age and to grow. As we continue to age, more people will need the hospital's services."

Currently, the facility has 33 patient rooms with 46 patient beds. The new wing will accommodate 50 single-patient rooms, providing more privacy for in-care patients. It also will create room for a medical operating department double the size of the present operating suite.

"What happens if the bond measure doesn't pass?" came the question from North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce President Fred Miller at the chamber's Thursday luncheon.

Gilbreath responded that, although he wasn't certain if administrators would try to promote the expansion the following year, he would work to keep the facility running smoothly in spite of the strain on the building.

"We'll continue to try to make the hospital operate more efficiently," he said.

Gilbreath said he plans to have the new wing complete by the end of 2006, with subsequent renovation on the existing building to follow.

Even with the pathway paved for the measure to reach the October ballot, he has acknowledged there are obstacles that remain.

Primarily, he expects opposition to arise soon before election day from those against raising the mill rate for the hospital service area.

"I think there's going to be somebody to pay the media to oppose this, like in Homer," he said, referring to radio and newspaper ads that surfaced before mail-out ballots arrived regarding the expansion of the South Peninsula General Hospital.

"There are those who say the project is too costly."

Gilbreath also said some people he has spoken with suggested property owners should get discounted services at the hospital because their taxes will support the hospital. He disagreed, however.

"It's not unlike taxpayers versus nontaxpayers who get supported by police protection, fire protection and EMS (emergency medical services)," Gilbreath said. "They don't protect taxpayers anymore than they do people who don't pay taxes."

He said his biggest fear, however, is that voters will not turn out at all.

"This has been overwhelmingly supported," Gilbreath said. "I'm worried that people will think this is a done deal and become complacent."

Gilbreath will speak at the Kenai Rotary luncheon today at noon at Paradisos in Kenai.

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