Residents push for a Chiefland hospital

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
FANNING SPRINGS - Hundreds of residents of Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties crowded into the Shrine Club Tuesday afternoon to voice their support for a proposed new hospital in Chiefland.
The public hearing opened, however, with a statement from officials at Williston's Nature Coast Regional Hospital opposing the move by Ameris Health Systems to build a 65-bed hospital on a site behind the Wal-Mart Supercenter.
If built, the new hospital would compete directly with Williston's 40-bed hospital for patients among the more than 65,000 residents who live within a 25-mile radius of the site.
Ameris, a firm based in Nashville, has filed a certificate of need with Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration for a 100-bed hospital on the 20-acre site, allowing for expansion at a later date.
Administrator Alan Bird, speaking on behalf of Nature Coast Hospital, said the need for another hospital in the area just is not there. The Williston hospital, Bird said, has difficulty filling 40 percent of its available beds on any given day. The hospital is operated by Cypress Health Systems; it offers general medical and surgical care and has an emergency room.
Bird also pointed out the difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified physicians to a rural hospital located so close to larger facilities such as North Florida Regional Medical Center, Shands at the University of Florida, or Gainesville's Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
WellFlorida, formerly the North Central Florida Health Planning Council, scheduled the public meeting. The Association for Health Care Administration is the state agency charged with approving or denying the Ameris plan, with a decision set for mid-December.
Those who spoke in favor of the proposal filled the room and spilled out the double front doors, waiting for a turn to speak.
Dr. Bill Martin, an orthodontist with an office in Chiefland, said the time had come for residents to do something proactively about health care.
"Doctors are more than willing to come out here," Martin said. "We are not comparing apples to apples in these two hospitals. Both can certainly survive."
A number of speakers emphasized the rapid growth in population, many of them retirees who have recently moved to the area. Others protested the fact that because the hearing ended at 5 p.m., working residents didn't have the opportunity to speak.
Bob Mount, a Chiefland dentist, described the region as "the last outpost in the state of Florida that does not have access to care."
"It is a crying shame that we have to come here today to defend our rights and needs," added Bobby Wright, a Dixie County resident.
Dominic LaRusso of Fanning Springs described a hair-raising ride to the emergency room at North Florida Regional Medical Center when he thought he was having a heart attack.
"It took 42 minutes with all the bells and lights flashing," he said. "At one point, they had to make a panic stop and I slid right off of the gurney. I could be dead, but I'm here to say we need a hospital here now."
An hour later, residents were still filing up to the stage to take their allotted three-minute turn at the microphone.
As one older resident struggled to maneuver down the steps after speaking, someone in the crowd shouted out, "Watch your step . . . It's a long way to the hospital."
Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or

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Proposal does have opposition

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