Chiefland hospital plans back on track


Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 6:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 6:27 p.m.

Plans to build a 106,000-square-foot hospital in Chiefland are back on track, administrators say, after taking a hit in the economic downturn that had delayed the start of construction.

Facts

TRI-COUNTY HOSPITAL

- 60-bed facility is to be built on 20 acres in Chiefland.

- To be operated by Ameris Health Systems of Nashville.

- Construction delays have pushed back a planned 2010 opening.

Enterprise Florida has approved a $40 million, 20-year, low-interest loan for the project.

Under a bill now awaiting Gov. Charlie Crist's signature, the hospital's construction permit, or certificate of need, will be extended to 36 months.

Jeff Gregg, who heads the certificate of need program at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, said it makes sense to add 18 months to the deadline for breaking ground on new construction, given the tight financial markets.

"We are ecstatic, because this gives us a better opportunity to try to get good terms on financing," Tri-County President and CEO Frank Schupp said. Schupp will run the hospital for Nashville-based Ameris Health Systems.

His project already has passed sinkhole examinations and architectural standards.

"I'm going to use a term that President Obama uses. ... We're shovel-ready," he said.

In recent appearances before Dixie County and Gilchrist County commissioners, Schupp emphasized that the hospital's opening date is dependent on obtaining the necessary funding to begin construction.

The cost of construction is expected to reach $54 million, with $30 million being financed with a mix of tax-free and taxable bonds.

Dixie, Levy and Gilchrist counties would have to approve the bonding program.

Schupp emphasized that he still must secure about $14 million in equity, basically funding through private investors.

"I don't yet have everything finalized," Schupp said. "Best-case scenario will be that the financing will be in place by August. I don't have a crystal ball, but I would hope we could take our first patient in spring of 2011."

Schupp made a presentation outlining the project's finances to members of Enterprise Florida in May. The hospital was one of three projects under consideration by the organization devoted to statewide economic development.

The two-story Tri-County Hospital will be located immediately behind the Wal-Mart Supercenter on U.S. 19. When completed, it is expected to employ about 350 people and have an annual payroll of about $11.5 million.

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