NEW PORT RICHEY — Since HCA Community Hospital, the city's biggest employer and taxpayer, broke ground on a new site in Trinity in 2006, the City Council has had few nice things to say about the move. Member Ginny Miller called the transition a "ticking time bomb'' and Mayor Scott McPherson said it was a "kick to the stomach."
In March, the hospital told state officials of a new plan — one that would keep open its emergency room and psychiatric ward while the other operations moved away. The city would earn less in taxes, but still more than nothing, and the hospital would have another place to care for patients. Win-win, right?
Not quite. In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, council members chose to protest the plan, calling it a "double whammy" that would earn the city less in taxes than it would cost to police the campus.
"They're moving all the good services into the unincorporated area of Pasco County, and they want to leave us with the problems," Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said. "It's going to cost the taxpayers of New Port Richey if they get away with this."
Last month, after learning of the plan, the council asked for an analysis weighing the benefits of extra medical facilities against the perceived costs of their police burden. If it was a bad deal, they said, they would send their objections to Tallahassee.
On Tuesday, before receiving that analysis, the council voted. City Manager Tom O'Neill will soon send a resolution voicing the city's "serious concerns" to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which will decide on the hospital's new plan on June 11.
Council members have portrayed the hospital's emergency and psychiatric centers as a serious strain on officers and a costly burden on the budget. Crime data released by the New Port Richey police Wednesday doesn't seem to agree.
In 2008, about 1 percent of officers' total activity — including everything from patrol checks to arrests — happened at the hospital, taking up about 88 police man hours at a cost of about $2,000.
That ratio has been dropping ever since. So far in 2010, only 100 of the police department's 15,000 "pieces of activity" were spent at the hospital. That's only about 40 man hours spent over nearly half a year at one of the biggest businesses in the city.
"I don't think the ER or psych ward would necessitate any more police," said Dr. Bharat Desai, a member of the hospital's board of trustees and a former chief of staff. "Usually the patient is well confined and there's rarely a problem."
Hospital CEO Kathy Gillette called the city's criticism and speculation "disappointing to hear." The hospital's new location will have 36 beds in its psych ward, 10 fewer than in the city limits, so keeping the old ward open would help accommodate the "high demand" for mental health services.
"It is confusing to me why the city is so reluctant or unwilling to look at this as a positive feature, rather than the scraps,'' Gillette said. "We think we were offering a good solution."
Last year the hospital paid $340,577 in taxes, $119,145 of which went to the city, property records show. Gillette could not estimate what the tax burden would be under the new plan.
If the state grants the hospital the "certificate of need" allowing the psych ward to stay downtown, Gillette said, officials would look into demolishing any abandoned buildings and connecting the remaining rooms.
Construction began on the hospital's new five-story facility at State Road 54 in 2006, with planners estimating the $195 million campus would be up and operating by 2008.
Officials now estimate the hospital, which will boast 400 physicians, 1,300 employees and volunteers and 236 beds, won't open until late 2011.
Council member Bob Langford called the hospital's new plan unnecessary and "a pretty big surprise." The expansion at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, he said, should be enough to address local residents' medical needs. As for the current hospital on Grand Boulevard? "Tearing that down," he said, would open up land for redevelopment.
Council members conceded that because the state needs no city approval on deciding new medical projects, their thoughts — and Tuesday's resolution — may have no effect on the hospital's outcome.
"I'm not real optimistic it will do anything," Miller said. "But I think it was something we were needing to do."
Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.