Deadlines loom for Chiefland hospital

-A A +A
By Mark Scohier

If the fate of a proposed hospital in Chiefland is known, then it’s not being shared, and deadlines are fast approaching.

The state-issued Certificate of Need (CON) to construct the hospital, applied for in 2006 by Ameris Health Systems LLC., runs out Sept. 3. The company, based in Nashville, has been applying for, and receiving, extensions to the CON since after the first 18 months it was initially granted. And, as of late last week, no new extension requests had been submitted to the state.

Ameris has suffered a number of setbacks in trying to finance the hospital, and deadlines have repeatedly been pushed further back.

In April of last year, Chief Executive for the proposed Tri-County Hospital, Frank Schupp, said the hospital would break ground in November. By the time November rolled around, Schupp said construction would begin in September of this year. Site preparations were slated to begin last month, according to Schupp’s announcement last year, though a quick drive by the area, located behind Walmart, reveals little more than a sign and an overgrown field.

Schupp said on the phone last week he was scrambling in order to get things resolved, though he would not go on record until after Sept. 3 about deadlines or plans to start construction.

Steve Love, a representative who deals with CONs for the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, said in a phone interview Thursday that Ameris had not, at that point, filed for another extension to the CON, something that must be done every 60 days until construction begins.

Companies are supposed to notify the agency within 15 days of a need for an extension. Thursday, when Love was interviewed, was already several days past that 15 day notice period.

There’s no maximum of extensions given, Love said, though “Usually, they have to show some effort toward completion of the project.” Typically, he said, companies file for extensions when there’s some resistance from local government toward construction.

“With each extension,” Love explained, “Ameris would have to show what’s happened and why it’s happening.”

But government resistance is not the case here. Both Levy County and City of Chiefland commissions have voiced support for the project, estimated to cost about $66 million and contain 60 acute care beds. The county, in years past, has worked toward helping Ameris secure bonds to finance construction. The City of Chiefland has received grants with a partial aim of extending water and sewer lines to the site of the proposed hospital. All were done in an effort to help get the ball rolling.

Chiefland Mayor Teal Pomeroy has said on several occasions that the hospital continues to be the No. 1 issue area residents ask him about.

A handful of community members in Chiefland even paid the $60,000 fee for Ameris to get its CON seven years ago, though now there’s some question as to whether or not that money was spent for nothing.

City Manager Kevin Gay, at a Rotary meeting last week, reportedly said,”We in Chiefland would like to know what they did with the money that was donated for the hospital. Shouldn’t it go back to who gave it, since were not getting what it was meant for?”

Speaking in general about retracting a CON, Love said, “At some point, the agency might make a decision that a good faith effort has not been shown,” though, he added, it’s rare that a CON is voided. And even then, Ameris can always appeal the decision.

Schupp said he would speak openly on the matter after Sept. 3.