CEO outlines need for new hospital

March 28, 2011 by

Cloud County Health Center CEO Jim Wahlmeier briefs the audience of about 70 people on the need for a new hospital as the second presentation in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series.

Sister Beth Stover, longtime administrator of St. Joseph's Hospital when it was operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, asks a question during Wahlmeier's presentation Monday evening.

Cloud County Health Center CEO Jim Wahlmeier said asking for a property tax to help pay for a new hospital would “probably be the last resort.”

But, he told the audience at Monday evening’s 2011 Concordia Speakers Series presentation, there is no question that a new hospital is needed.

Noting that the current facility opened 60 years ago this month — in March 1951 — Wahlmeier said, “There’s a saying that if you have your health, you have everything. The same is true of a community.”

The Norton native and Navy veteran began his presentation at the Nazareth Motherhouse auditorium by ticking off statistics on services provided at the hospital in the past year:

  • 50 babies born
  • 800 admissions
  • 3,800 in-patient days
  • 500 surgeries
  • 3,800 emergency room visits
  • 18,000 clinic visits
  • 47,300 laboratory tests

He also briefly outlined the history of the hospital in Concordia.

The Sisters of St. Joseph opened St. Joseph’s Hospital on Fifth Street — in what is now Manna House of Prayer — in 1903, and then expanded it with St. Ann’s Home in 1916.

Four decades later, he said, “The sisters looked to the future” and began raising money for the hospital they would build on West 11th Street. When the new St. Joseph’s Hospital opened, the five-story, 150-bed facility had cost $1.75 million to build and an additional $250,000 to equip.

Ownership of the hospital eventually passed to what would become Salina Regional Medical Center, and then in 2002 it became an independent nonprofit hospital and was renamed Cloud County Health Center.

Today it has 172 employees and a payroll of more than $6 million.

After his talk, Jim Wahlmeier answered questions from the audience for nearly 45 minutes Monday evening.

But it remains a 60-year-old facility in an era when medical care — and patient expectations — have changed dramatically, Wahlmeier told the audience of nearly 70 people.

In 2007, the building costs for remodeling the old hospital were estimated at $16.3 million, while the construction expense for a new facility was expected to cost $17 million.

Added to that construction cost for a new hospital were the expenses of acquiring property, hiring architects and figuring in contingencies and debt service. Together, the total was almost $29 million when the hospital board put a general obligation bond before Cloud County taxpayers in November 2008.

Voters said no.

The new plan that Wahlmeier discussed Monday evening would cost about $20 million.

The federal government, through Medicare, would pay about  $11 million, or 55 percent, of that cost and the hospital itself would pay roughly $3 million from its equipment fund, so the shortfall is expected to be in the neighborhood of $6 million. Other grants and federal funds might be available to cover some of that cost, Wahlmeier said.

But before the final cost can be estimated, he added, the first step has to be acquiring the property for the new hospital.

The top site now being considered adjoins the airport property on the east side of Highway 81.

There are some conditions for use of that property, he noted, including coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration to upgrade the airport to accommodate more air traffic.

And, he said, “The (hospital) board has said we confirm that site by May or we start looking at another site.”

Other possible locations include land adjoining the current hospital property or sites south of Walmart and in the North Development area.

Once the site question is answered, the next step would be to hire an architect and finalize cost estimates.

If either a sales tax or property tax increase was required, “We’d let you know by August,” Wahlmeier said, so that the measure could be on the November ballot.

Wahlmeier was the second of eight scheduled presentations in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series. Hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the talks are all free and the public is encouraged to attend.

The next speaker will be CloudCorp Inc. executive director Kirk Lowell talking about economic development in rural communities. That will be April 25 beginning at 7 p.m.


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