Voters OK hospital by narrow margin

Work on new Rangely hospital should start this summer

RANGELY I The margin of victory in Tuesday’s bond election may not have been what hospital officials had hoped for, but they couldn’t be happier with the final outcome.
Voters, by a margin of 83 votes, 426 to 343, approved a proposal to build a new $38.7 million hospital. Of the 1,383 ballots mailed, 769, or about 57 percent, were returned.
“You’d like to see 100 percent (support), but that’s not realistic,” said Nick Goshe, Rangely District Hospital chief executive officer. “But in this recession we’re in … we couldn’t be happier. This is great news.”
Work on the new hospital is expected to begin in late July or early August, in the hopes of having the structure roofed in before winter. The new hospital is expected to open in the first quarter of 2012.
“We will, hopefully, receive our first patient at the beginning of 2012,” said Stephen Petersburg, a member of the hospital’s board of directors.
Like his fellow board members, chairman Jack Rich was happy with Tuesday’s election results.
“Obviously, we’re happy that this went through,” Rich said. “The margin of victory wasn’t what we would have hoped for, but we got a clear majority and the number of votes (cast) says how important this was to the community.”
Hospital administrators and board members have been working for well more than a year on a plan to bring the bond issue back to the voters. In 2007, voters rejected a proposal for a new hospital.
“This is a project we felt was worthwhile,” Rich said. “Since I came on the board in the spring of 2008, we felt like this was a focus to bring back before the public. We did our homework.”
Hospital officials conducted 23 informational meetings, giving residents an opportunity to learn about the project and ask questions.
“We felt like we made a compelling argument,” Petersburg said. ‘We were very hopeful (going into the election) and, yes, we were confident that when we had a chance to talk to folks they would change their minds and say, ‘Yes, this is a good deal,’ even in these economic times.”
Board chairman Rich agreed.
“We felt that we had done everything that we could to get the message out,” Rich said. “We did our best to make sure everybody understood the issues and what was at stake.”
At issue was whether to build a new hospital or remodel the existing one, which was built in 1961.
“We either had to build a new building or remodel the old building, and the cost was going to be similar,” Rich said. “We just felt it was a good time (to build), with the way the interest rates were. A construction project of this size will be a good stimulus for the community and (with the new facility) we’ll be able to continue to provide the services and quality health care the community expects from us.”
Officials said building a new hospital was preferable to remodeling the existing one because of costs to upgrade an aging facility and it wouldn’t address the need for more space. Another issue was how to care for patients during a remodeling project.
The construction of a new hospital will have an estimated impact of $4.5 million on the local economy.
The new hospital will be built on a 20-acre site across from the current building. The land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and will be part of a lease-purchase agreement with the hospital.
“We don’t have the title (for the land) yet,” Goshe said. “But they’re telling us it could be anytime. We’ll need that in order to be able to start dirt work.”
In the immediate future, CEO Goshe said hospital officials will go to Washington, D.C., to meet with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“The taxpayers pay for the actual financing of the hospital, but the government requires, in order to sell the bonds, we have to have it HUD-insured,” Goshe said. “They do that with a lot of critical-access hospitals like us. We’re hoping to go there within the next month and be able to get the formal process kicked off.”
To put the bond and what it means to homeowners in terms of real numbers, hospital officials calculated the impact to be about $45 a year on a $100,000 house, or $3.60 per month. The increase in property taxes will be used to repay the bond during the 25-year duration of the loan.
Now that voters have supported the construction of a new hospital, Goshe and the board are excited to move forward.
“Now that the community has given us their stamp of approval, we can switch our focus from planning to implementation,” Goshe said. “We’re very excited to be moving on. The passage of this bond will position us to be able to offer the citizens of Rangely a state-of-the-art facility locally for years to come. A new facility will not only give us a building that meets today’s health-care demands, it should also help us in recruiting and retaining quality medical providers for years to come.”