Archived Story

Spread the news, but get story straight

Published 5:31pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

News travels fast around here.

Good or bad, right or wrong, hot topics are sure to get attention. By now, many of you have read or heard about St. Luke’s Hospital’s plans to build a new wing with six enlarged patient rooms, private bathrooms, a nurses’ station and gym with treatment rooms for physical rehab.

And actually many of you have written letters of support for our plans to focus on our orthopedics service line with larger rooms and rehab space. We’re calling it Phase I with all intentions to eventually replace the current facility, that, after four decades, is not so current.

Phase I is conservative and long overdue. And it’s also absolutely necessary. If St. Luke’s Hospital is to remain a viable hospital, providing local access to life-saving medical care for our community, we have to make structural – and aesthetic – improvements.

The 40-year-old building nestled in the natural beauty of the rolling hillside, has some other challenges, and those are the rolling hillside and odd property boundaries.

Because of the topography of the property and that we have generously given away 9.17 acres for neighboring health and human service agencies, St. Luke’s is limited on growth, expansion or even relocation on this property. So this brings us to question – where can we build this new but necessary hospital wing, and how can we pay for this?

First, let’s get back to the land issue. In 1969, when regulations prevented additional expansion to the former hospital building on Carolina Drive, St. Luke’s Hospital Board of Trustees and community activist administrator Howard Spika rallied the community, county leaders and our volunteers in the quest for a new hospital to serve Polk County.

Everyone rose to the challenge – St. Luke’s Auxiliary purchased 40 acres of land on Highway 108 and of that acreage, donated 14.13 acres of hospital land to Polk County for the distinct purpose of building a hospital.

Individuals, charitable foundations and federal funding through the Hill Burton Act provided $1.6 million, while the county floated $1.5 million in government bonds. In 1972, with great fanfare, the new $3.1 million hospital opened for community tours. St. Luke’s Hospital was state of the art and the pride of this community.

In addition to the 14.13 acres within the perimeter road surrounding this new hospital, the county received the former hospital building and property (Jervey Palmer Building) on Carolina Drive, which has remained in use. Add to this a small amount of rent we pay annually to lease this hospital building on Highway 108, Polk County ended up with an outstanding investment.

Our current hospital facility is decades old, out-of-date and inefficient. We are faced with an aging facility, cramped patient rooms, and small half-baths with narrow doorways that make it difficult for patients to maneuver.

Struggling financially for the past 13 years, our hospital has invested in people and technology, not infrastructure, as we work to provide 24-hour medical care.

Last year alone, we spent $970,000 in operational costs for a building that is now valued at $47,000. In addition to costly maintenance, the aesthetics and inefficiencies of our current building have made it difficult to compete for patients who want and deserve a modern, up-to-date facility.

We’ve checked into renovations, but that is cost prohibitive. We’ve checked into building a new facility, but that is even more exorbitant. So we’ve determined that a small addition on the current property is the best way for us to meet the needs and desires of our community without having to ask taxpayers to support our efforts.

Yes, that’s correct – we do not intend to ask our county commissioners to help fund this project. As a matter of fact, the hospital has never been a routine line item in the budget. But to secure funding for this $6.5 million project, the 15,000-square-foot addition needs to be on land our local hospital corporation owns.

To help explain our position, consider this: would you want to spend the time and expense to build a new home on land someone else owns? Neither do we, and neither does our lender. Now, more than ever, St. Luke’s Hospital needs community support in seeking the return or exchange for property that was initially purchased for the hospital.

St. Luke’s Hospital is vital to our community, and we must remain viable if our community expects local access to medical care. We are the county’s largest employer with annual payroll of $14 million that generates more than $91 million back into our local economy at a 1:7 ratio. Last year, we paid $246,872.85 to local government for utilities and water and we provided $5 million in uncompensated, charity care and community benefit. If we can’t move forward with our plans to sustain our hospital, then we all lose so much more.

As we move forward, rest assured we’ll keep you informed of our progress.

Our board, administration, staff and physicians are excited about the plans. We hope you will be too, knowing that St. Luke’s Hospital will continue as your community hospital. And despite our challenges, you will find exceptional care, close to home.

Editor's Picks

Editorial: Divisive prayer alienated citizens

Everyone deserves the right to free speech. Few will argue this point more staunchly than those who work in the newspaper industry.  Even we have ... Read more  | 2 comments

Bathanti will judge Lanier Library’s poetry competition

North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti will judge for this year’s Sidney Lanier Poetry Competition. Bathanti is the author of eight books of poetry as ... Read more