Officials respond to Riverland Medical Center concerns

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

By Christian Coffman

FERRIDAY — Citizens who oppose the building of a new hospital on the east side of Ferriday discussed the issue Tuesday night at the Arcade Theater.

“We would like an explanation from the hospital board or the police jury of the reasoning and  the thoughts behind the decision to move the hospital from where it is now out on the highway,” moderator and Concordia Parish Clerk of Court Clyde Ray Webber said.

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Members of Citizens Against Relocating Riverland discussed the $2.5 million line of credit that would go toward the new hospital’s construction, which the Louisiana Bond Commission will consider soon. The bond commission postponed considering approval on the line of credit in June after concerns from CARR members were raised.

Leaders for CARR say they do not oppose construction of a new facility, but want a new facility built on land already owned by the hospital behind the current facility.

Chairman of the Riverland Medical Center Board of Directors Jim Graves addressed Webber’s question and responded to other questions about the new hospital, the studies that support the relocation of the hospital and how a new hospital will affect Ferriday and Concordia Parish.

Members of the hospital board and Concordia Parish Police Jury members  Willie Dunbar, Jerry Beatty and Cary Cook  were present for the meeting.

Graves said the original hospital site is no longer optimal to provide health care in its current state, explaining that results from a study conducted by Stroudwater Associates concluded that moving the facility to the highway would be the most fiscally responsible thing for the the hospital.

“Stroudwater did an overview and concluded that the hospital should be located 3 and a half miles east of its current location,” Graves said. “The hospital must service the entire parish, and can only do so on the highway.”

Graves said the new hospital would have assisted living facilities,  a cancer ward and would possibly include a strip mall area that would include offices for specialized medical practioners such as orthopedic doctors and child care professionals.

Resident Lena Bateman said she understands the need for a new hospital building, but she did not know if the parish needed to buy land.

“Do we have something is in writing that will let us know (for sure) it will happen,” Bateman asked. “If it doesn’t, will the old facility grow up in vines like some of our other buildings? Do we have a firm commitment on what’s going in there?”

Graves said if the old hospital will have to be torn down, it will cost approximately $1.5 million to demolish it.

“Whatever we do, it’s going to take a lot of work,” Graves said. “It (currently) costs us $30,000 to $50,000 a month to maintain.”

Graves said he was originally against building the hospital on the highway, but the numbers from Stroudwater Associates convinced him otherwise.

To obtain funding for the project, the hospital must show that the money can be paid back, something that can be done if the facility moves from its current location, Graves said.

“The 10-percent increase from new, incoming patients that is expected in the move will be enough to reimburse the USDA,” Graves said. “The state says we’re going to lose money if we build a new hospital where it is. To get the money, we have to go by what our survey shows.”

Several property owners voiced concerns that the movement of the hospital would decrease the value of property in Ferriday.

“There are a lot of people who live in the Parish. We are dependent at what goes on in that hospital to keep this community afloat,” business owner Julie Cole said. “Without the people that come to my store everyday who come from the hospital — without those people — the community of Ferriday is going to be in sad shape.”

Graves said Ferriday was on the decline and the movement of the hospital was a gamble.

“We’re looking for a way out and we’ve found it,” Graves said. “We’ve paid experts to look into this and we’ve found it. How do you know, when you buy a house, you’ll have a job next month? We’re making a gamble on this.”

CARR chairman Barry Maxwell said he thought the plan to move the hospital “has been orchestrated by the study from day one, that if we don’t go with the study nothing will get done.”

“Stroudwater was the only study that said location mattered,” Maxwell said. “It can’t be within 10 miles of Merit (a Natchez hospital), so it just happens to be 10.2 miles away from Merit. I don’t think people from this community will drive six miles to Ferriday when they could drive (a shorter distance) to Merit.”

Graves said that much of the info gathered by Stroudwater Association is confidential, but anyone is welcome to come by the hospital to ask what of it they can see.

Graves also invited the public to attend RMC board meetings every fourth Tuesday of the month.