FLORENCE — Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital officials announced in July their plans to locate a replacement hospital for ECM on six blocks of property in east Florence, answering a question that has been burning in the community for more than two years.
Russell Pigg, CEO of ECM Hospital, in a meeting with east Florence property owners July 12, announced the hospital’s intentions to purchase approximately 25 acres in a primarily residential area near Singing River Bridge.
The site is bordered by Central Avenue, Enterprise Street, Veterans Drive and Helton Drive and includes the former Brandon School, New Vision United Methodist Church and the Maud Lindsay Free Kindergarten building.
Just two months after first announcing the location, hospital officials said they had contracts in place with the needed property owners to acquire the land to build a $250 million, 300-bed regional hospital to replace the aging ECM facility.
The much-anticipated announcement landed it as the top story of 2012 as selected by the TimesDaily staff.
Pigg said the quickness with which the property was secured was surprising to all involved but said it reassured him that the situation was a “win-win” for the community and the hospital.
“We always wanted the hospital to be a win-win,” Pigg said. “We are excited to get a new hospital and excited to put it in an area where it might kick-start a little rejuvenation.”
Since the announcement, Pigg said ground and soil samples have been collected for pre-construction analysis, and architects have visited the site. There are still two property owners who have not agreed to sell their land for the hospital development, but Pigg said the location of those two parcels will not hinder the project.
“Both of those owners have extenuating circumstances right now,” he said. “As we get closer to construction those circumstances may change, and they may become interested in selling. The communication lines are still open.”
City officials have said they anticipate great growth in the area surrounding the planned 555,000-square-foot hospital, if the project is given the go-ahead by the state health planning group.
The location announcement came just more than seven months after RegionalCare Hospital Partners, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based owners of ECM, ECM East and Shoals Hospital, filed a Certificate of Need application with the State Health Planning and Development Agency to build the replacement facility. RegionalCare applied for the Certificate of Need on Dec. 30, 2011.
Also in 2012, the private hospital company applied for a Certificate of Need for a 20,000-square-foot, $19 million cancer center that would be located adjacent to planned hospital.
Both projects are on hold after other health care providers, namely Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield and Alliance Oncology, which operates Bethesda Regional Cancer Treatment Center in Florence and Valley Regional Cancer Treatment Center in Sheffield, filed opposition to the projects with the Alabama health planning agency.
The opposition filings necessitate a contested case hearing with an administrative law judge, which has been scheduled for Feb. 3-22 at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence.
Pigg said he remains confident the administrative law judge assigned to the case will side with ECM, though that decision is not legally binding. The projects still need approval by a Certificate of Need Review Board after the hearings.
“We don’t see any downside to building this new hospital,” he said. “It is a win for the local community, a win for the neighborhood, a win for the region and a win from a health care standpoint and an economic standpoint.”
Pigg said even if granted Certificate of Need approval in 2013, it is unlikely ground-breaking on the new facilities would occur before 2014.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.
Dec. 30, 2011: RegionalCare Hospital Partners file Certificate of Need application with the State Health Planning and Development Agency for a 300-bed replacement hospital.
n Jan. 17: Application deemed complete by state health agency. Review period begins.
Feb. 28: Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital names Russell Pigg to CEO position.
March 2: Certificate of Need application formally contested by Helen Keller Hospital, Athens Limestone Hospital, Decatur General and Parkway Medical Center in Decatur and Alliance Oncology, which operates Bethesda Regional Cancer Treatment Center in Florence and Valley Regional Cancer Treatment Center in Sheffield. All sides will be heard during a hearing with an administrative law judge.
March 20: Pigg takes over as CEO at ECM.
March 27: RegionalCare files Certificate of Need application for a cancer treatment center to be located on the campus of the proposed replacement hospital.
May 25: Certificate of Need for the proposed cancer center contested by Helen Keller Hospital and Alliance Oncology, necessitating a hearing for that project.
June: It is announced that both contested case hearings will be heard by same judge.
July 12: Officials announce plans to purchase 25 acres of land in east Florence as the site of the proposed 300-bed replacement hospital. Homeowners in the area are told they will be offered double their property value.
Aug. 12: Dates are set for the hearings for the proposed hospital and the proposed cancer center. The hearings are scheduled for Feb. 3-22 at the Marriott Shoals in Florence.
Sept. 13: RegionalCare officials announce they have contractually secured the property needed to build the proposed hospital and cancer center, if the projects are approved by state officials.
Dec. 19: The Florence City Council agrees to sell the property on which the Maud Lindsay Kindergarten building it located to RegionalCare as part of the property needed to build the proposed hospital. The Florence City Schools board of education earlier declared its portion of that property surplus to make way for a similar deal. EMC officials are arranging and paying to move the building to a lot about three blocks from its current site.