Hospital Leaders Aim for No-Debt Financing

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By JULIA WELLS

All fund raising, no debt. This was the message from leaders at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital this week when they hosted a forum to update the public on plans to build a new hospital.

"We're committed to not going into debt," hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh told a small group of Vineyard residents who gathered for the forum Saturday morning at the Oak Bluffs School.

Mr. Walsh said trustees hope to collect some $39 million to go toward replacing the decrepit hospital with a brand new state-of-the-art building.

The total price tag for the project is $42 million. The hospital plans to dedicate some of its own cash reserves to the new building project to make up the difference.

Launched late last summer and the most ambitious capital project in the history of the Vineyard, the plan to build a new hospital has been inching forward for the better part of a year. Trustees have not yet begun a formal capital campaign.

Pressed by one resident to provide a timetable for fund raising and construction, Mr. Walsh said if all goes according to plan he hopes to break ground by the fall of 2005. But he admitted that there are many hurdles to clear before then, including regulatory review by the Martha's Vineyard Commission and local land use boards in the town of Oak Bluffs.

"That's the best of all possible worlds," Mr. Walsh said, referring to the fall 2005 ground breaking.

The forum featured architect Marc Rowland, a partner with Thomas Miller & Partners and the chief planner for the new building project.

Mr. Rowland showed schematics and explained the plan to build a new, three-story, 19-bed hospital including a new emergency room, two operating rooms, radiology, laboratory, surgery, obstetrics, acute care and intensive care.

The hospital entrance will face Beach Road and the new building will be married to the rear portion of the old 1929 cottage hospital. Patient rooms will all be private and the new building will be an environmentally friendly and efficient "green" building, low on maintenance and high on natural light to promote healing.

The building will include a roof garden and a multi-purpose room adjacent to the patient rooms for families to gather.

The plan also calls for renovating the existing, circa 1972 hospital building for use as medical office space. These renovations are expected to cost about $1.2 million.

Mr. Rowland said construction is planned so that all medical services will continue at the hospital without interruption.

He also said hospital leaders have completed the determination of need application (DON), which is due to be filed on July 1. DON applications are required by the state department of public health for all capital projects over $10 million. The application includes detailed reporting requirements for the specifications of the project - including the financing plan.

Mr. Walsh said a financial feasibility analysis, done in connection with the DON application, shows that the hospital could carry about $15 million in debt. But he said trustees do not plan to go that route.

"Our goal for fund raising is $39 million," Mr. Walsh said. He did not elaborate.

Mr. Walsh also said he hopes to move forward on a plan to tie the hospital into the new Oak Bluffs sewage treatment facility.

"We want to do that anyway and I hope to do it before the new hospital is built. It's just the right thing to do," Mr. Walsh said.

Early cost estimates for the tie-in, which will require a force main to run up County Road, are pegged at about $500,000.

The plan also calls for retaining the Windemere Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, the Vineyard nursing home that shares the campus with the hospital.

Mr. Walsh admitted that hospital trustees have examined the cost of building a new hospital in another location, but he said the cost estimates climbed to about $66 million, including $11 million to build a new nursing home.

Scattered questions and comments from the audience covered a range of topics.

"Building a hospital is not just bricks and mortar, it's a major opportunity to bring together the disparate health care provider resources . . . .There has to be something about the plan that reflects what we need and how we use the hospital. Let's have that discussion," said Murray Frank.

"I would respectfully say that discussion has been going on for the last year and a half," Mr. Rowland replied.

Dr. Stephen Doyle, an anesthesiologist who is chief of the medical staff at the hospital, underscored the need.

"What we see here is very exciting - boy, do we really need this. There is no doubt in the minds of the medical staff - we really need this," he said.