FLORENCE – Executives of Regional Care Hospital Partners showed off their architectural rendering of their proposed 300-bed medical center last night. They gave the preview to the people whose property they hope to build it on.
“We will offer you 200 percent of your appraised value for your homes and rental properties,” Russell Pigg, C.E.O. of ECM Hospital told the audience at the Methodist Church Center in East Florence, ground-zero for the proposal. Only persons who actually own property in the 6-square block footprint of the now-called North Alabama Medical Center were invited to hear the plans. And from the sound of things in the room, the residents, mostly working-class people and rental-unit property owners, were excited about the prospects of getting, as Pigg described it, “Eighty thousand for your forty thousand dollar house.”
Before the meeting, Henry Williams, one of the property owners in the affected area said, “If this means better health care for Florence, then I’m all for it. There won’t be as big of a need to travel.” He also said that the offer price of the property should take into consideration the resident’s sentimental value of having lived in their homes for generations, in many instances.
In the neighborhood meeting, as it was called, Florence City Council member for the District, Herman Graham told the residents that the City is sitting on a tremendous opportunity, and that the residents could be proud of their contribution to the project. He also said that The City Council supports Regional Care Hospital Partners in this project. “It’s a pretty great thing for our City,” Graham emphasized.
The proposal, outlined by Pigg, includes a 300 bed hospital with 500-thousand square feet of floor space. “This is not just a replacement of ECM Hospital, ” Pigg explained, “This is going to be a game-changer for all of North Alabama and our bordering counties in Tennessee. This regional facility will have a $1-billion impact on our area and will generate hundreds of new jobs,” he said.
Pigg told the audience that their participation was an “all-or-nothing” deal, meaning that every property owner must agree to sell between now and October 1 of this year, or they will begin the process of looking elsewhere to site the medical center. He said that, while the East Florence is their preferred location, as it is near Singing River Bridge accessing Colbert County, it is not the only suitable location. Once all of the property is under contract, R.C.H.P. will begin the effort of getting final Certificate of Need approval from the Sate of Alabama. The plan is, once the CON is in hand, the property owners will close the sale their homes between January and June of 2014, and construction will begin forthwith.
There are expected to be between 1000 – 1200 construction workers on the job for 24 to 36 months. Pigg said that they will try to hire as many local companies and Trades as possible, however the General Contractor for the project is based out of Nashville, near R.C.H.P.’s Brentwood Headquarters.
There are no plans on the part of Regional Care for the final disposition of the land and improvements where E.C.M. Hospital is located.
County Commissioner, Reah Tays Fulmer, asked Pigg how is it that R.C.H.P. can build its new medical facility on the roughly 25 acres of land in this footprint, when for the last three years, hospital officials have publicly stated that they required 70-80 acres of land. Pigg explained, ” 25 acres is not optimal. 60 acres is what we would liked to have had, but 25 will get it done. 30 more would be great.” The idea was expressed that, in the future, if additional real estate was required, R.C.H.P. would make subsequent acquisitions.
Council member Graham added that, “Patton Island Bridge was built to enhance the whole area economically, and this is just an example of how that is happening.” Two years ago, Joe Roach, the then-C.E.O. of E.C.M. Hospital caused an uproar in Florence and Lauderdale County when he expressed that the most likely site for the new medical center was on the Colbert County end of The Singing River Bridge, as the Patton Island structure is properly named. The notion that those residents on the north bank of the Tennessee River would lose their hospital to the south bank was unthinkable, and elected officials, who are now praising Regional Care for its contribution, were threatening lawsuits. That sentiment has apparently vaporized with the ouster of Roach and the appointment of Pigg.
As the meeting was coming to a close, State Representative for Lauderdale County and resident of Florence, Greg Burdine told the audience, “I want Regional Care to know that we appreciate them for what they are doing for us here. And I also want you (the property owners) to know that you are the key to this happening.” He went on, “This is a great opportunity for our city and community as a whole. You have set the foundation for this great hospital.”