NEW PORT RICHEY — The state has approved HCA Community Hospital's proposal to run a psychiatric ward, a move city officials once called a "ticking time bomb."
The approval, sought by HCA in March, allows the company to run two campuses: its main 236-bed Medical Center of Trinity, planned to open next year off State Road 54, and an emergency room and 46-bed psych facility at its current site in New Port Richey.
The Agency for Health Care Administration recommended the project Friday under three conditions: that the ward would stay on Marine Parkway, that at least 15 percent of the facility's patient days would go to Medicaid or charity care, and that the hospital would still serve Baker Act patients.
City Council members, already frustrated that its biggest employer and taxpayer was headed outside the city limits, criticized the hospital's application to the state last month. They worried the ward's incoming and outgoing patients would ensure a continual safety hazard and time sink for police, with Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe saying, "It's going to cost the taxpayers of New Port Richey if they get away with this."
But Mayor Scott McPherson spoke in a more tempered tone Friday, saying he had yet to see any strong evidence the ward would be disastrous.
"The burden has been somewhat theoretical and tough to quantify. At least, I never saw any data that was shocking, as far as any burden it would put on the city," McPherson said. "If the state determined the services are needed, the city will do everything it should do to support that."
Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox, Sheriff Bob White, local police chiefs and health care administrators sent letters to Tallahassee supporting the hospital, with White saying a denial would result in longer transport for Baker Act patients and "a profound impact on public safety."
The sole letter of opposition came from an attorney representing Windmoor Healthcare of Clearwater, a full-service psychiatric facility, who called the proposal impractical and unnecessary.
Community Hospital CEO Kathy Gillette said the state's approval will allow the hospital to convert what was to be a 36-bed psych ward at the Trinity site into a general medical-surgical ward. Housing the psych ward in the New Port Richey campus is a good solution for dealing with increasing medical needs, she said.
Demolishing some of the New Port Richey campus and renovating about 1,200 square feet of the hospital will cost about $6.1 million. The separate psych ward and ER will continue operating when the other facilities move to Trinity, possibly in October 2011, Gillette said.
"We're more than pleased," Gillette said. "We feel the case was well justified in getting the approval."
Reach Drew Harwell at email@example.com or (727) 869-6244.