By Timothy Cox
If Mercer Health officials follow through with plans to build a new hospital in the Celina area, the facility could be the anchor of an entire medical campus.
Mercer Health CEO T.J. Padden last week divulged that other health care providers have expressed an interest in locating near the proposed facility on the east side of Celina. Meanwhile, preliminary plans for the proposed hospital continue to come together as hospital officials begin pitching the project to local community groups.
"Three firms involved in various types of health care have contacted us," Padden said. He would not be more specific, but said such development around a new facility is common.
A new hospital, with or without adjacent medical buildings, would be a boon to the city of Celina, Mayor Sharon LaRue said during a recent interview. LaRue also serves on the hospital's board of governors, which ultimately will decide whether to proceed with the proposal.
"It would be a wonderful deal for Celina," LaRue said. "It would mean immediate care right at our fingertips." Because the hospital would likely be built near the city's Grand Lake Industrial Park, it would also be a development incentive for the city in drawing new businesses, LaRue said. Most importantly, a hospital would provide a large number of new jobs.
Mercer Health employs more than 600 at Community Hospital in Coldwater and at its other services in Celina, making the organization the county's largest employer, according to statistics kept by the Mercer County Community Development office.
If hospital officials deliver a full-service hospital that is not a "first-aid station," it would be a huge benefit, county development Director Larry Stelzer said.
"If that happens, it's phenomenal," Stelzer said this morning. "Celina needs to have a hospital. To say Mercer County has two hospitals would be a wonderful thing."
Mercer Health officials need at least 15 acres of land for the project, a preliminary engineering study showed. Officials are looking at a number of parcels of land, all on the east side of Celina, near the state Route 29 corridor, Padden said.
Mercer Health administration officials are in the process of selecting a design firm to create preliminary sketches and renderings. Anderson Architects, Van Wert, and Garmann-Miller Associates, Minster, are the two firms being considered, Padden said. The company chosen to do the work will be asked to include Fanning/Howey Associates, Celina, in the process, he said.
The design firms will not be drafting firm design plans or construction blueprints.
"The project at this point is nothing more than a vision of the people here. We need to convert that to drawings for something our board members and community members can look at," Padden said.
Padden already has started talking about the proposal -- known to hospital officials as the "Celina Outreach Facility" -- to community groups. He has spoken to Kiwanis, Lions and Knights of Columbus groups and the hospital has set up an e-mail address to hear public response to the project. The new e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common concerns raised so far are affordability of the project and about the future of the existing hospital in Coldwater, Padden said. People in the Celina area want to make sure any new facility offers a full range of services, he said.
Mercer Health officials have repeatedly said any new construction in Celina would not lead to closure of the hospital in Coldwater. Officials point to improvements such as new signage on the Coldwater building and plans to remodel the emergency room as signs they are committed to the Coldwater facility.
"They have to trust us, but that can only come with time," Padden said.
Paying for the project without tax revenue likely is feasible, but it is still something being closely studied, Padden said. Officials are pursuing a change in the hospital's Medicare status under a federal program aimed at assisting small, rural hospitals. Being part of that program would have resulted in an additional $2.8 million in profits for the hospital's last fiscal year.
It remains uncertain whether Mercer Health will be able to qualify for that program, and the doors of a new facility could already be open by the time the issue is finalized, Padden said.
"We know if that piece falls into place, it's very, very affordable, but we've got to have a safety net in case we are not able to go that route," Padden said. "We're not going to get into a situation where we're operating in the red because of a new facility."