WINCHESTER — When the new Clark Regional Medical Center opens Saturday, the old hospital on Lexington Avenue, which has served people in Winchester and its region since 1967, will close. What will happen to the former hospital building and its nearly 70 acres of land has not been determined.
The Clark Regional Foundation for the Promotion of Health, which owns the property, says no decision has been reached. Leaders said they have heard ideas and have formed a team to study the issue and make a proposal.
Since the for-profit Nashville company LifePoint Hospitals bought the 95-year-old hospital and began operating it in May 2010, there has been plenty of speculation about how the old hospital could be adapted for another purpose or be torn down and replaced with something else.
Recommended uses for the red-brick building have included a drug-abuse treatment center and a veterans medical center.
"We've had every suggestion imaginable of how the property could be utilized," said Ed Mastrean, chairman of the foundation's board. The building is in good shape, he said.
Nonetheless, it's an old building, and it was built as a hospital, which limits its potential uses, said Jen Algire, who was recently hired as the foundation's president, an administrative position.
"If the building was sufficient, we would still be using it as a hospital, so I think we have to balance that," she said. "I would hate for somebody to think that if something were to happen to the building, we were throwing away a perfectly good building, which would not be the case."
There has been some interest in the property.
"We've shown it a number of times, and to this point, we're not quite sure exactly what to do with it," Mastrean said.
Regardless of what happens to the land and buildings, the money will be used to benefit the community and promote health. That is the mission of the foundation.
It's a large amount of money, perhaps as much as $35 million to $40 million.
The property comprises the old hospital and 37 acres, including a medical office park, 30 acres of land on Winchester's bypass that is being leased to the city's parks and recreation department for a walking trail, and a clinic in Powell County. Together, it is estimated to be worth about $10 million, Mastrean said. Corporate assets accumulated over the years amount to $25 million or more.
The physical structures of some non-profit hospitals in the United States are considered community assets because they were financed with state and federal grants under the Hill-Burton Act of 1946. But that is not the case with Clark County hospital, which was privately financed. Algire said the reason its assets were retained for charitable purposes is that the old hospital board's trustees "negotiated well."
"The assets from the sale will always benefit the community in some way, shape or form," she said.
The foundation is working with the Clark County Health Department and other groups on a three- to five-year community health study using a process called Mobilizing for Action Through Planning and Partnerships, or MAPP. The strategic planning tool, which was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has become a standard for determining health problems and solutions.
Beth Willett, a community health educator for the health department, is coordinating the survey, which has involved local officials, school personnel, health care professionals, emergency services and non-profit groups such as Rapha Ministries and the Clark County Homeless Coalition.
The six-stage process begins with engaging the community through conversations and public forums, followed by "visioning." The third phase is assessment, which is gathering data about the community's health, current services and demographics. Assessment, the longest phase, is being done now.
A few of the issues that have been discussed at the community forums are obesity, poverty, drug addiction, the uninsured and an aging population. After collecting the data, participants identify issues, and then formulate goals and strategies to address them. All of that information goes into a Community Health Improvement Plan.
The sixth and final phase is implementation of parts of the plan by the participants.
The current plan, which will be for 2013 to 2018, is similar to what's being done now in Montgomery and Fayette counties. What makes Clark County's MAPP different, however, is the funding potential that the Clark Regional Foundation represents. In the language of the MAPP process, Willett said, it's called a "force of change."
"It's a leverage point for us where we can make a lot of difference if we make the right decisions, ... if we use it appropriately," Willett said.
He said the foundation's money can be used to leverage other funds.
Most foundations, agencies and groups that make grants want to see collaboration, she said.
"They want to see that you are working with partners and your local public health system, and that you're doing something that's timely and necessary," Willett said. "We have to do more with less, so if you're partnering, hopefully, you're reducing redundancy and duplication of services."
Willett said everyone in Clark County will own the Community Health Improvement Plan and can use it to write grant proposals.
The partnering, planning and fund-raising strategy fits well with the Clark Regional Foundation's goals.
It isn't the intention of the foundation to distribute the old hospital's assets in a few years and then dissolve, leaders said.
Mastrean said the foundation will invest its principal to earn interest, raise more money, and serve needs in its service area in perpetuity, just as other foundations do. By law, he said, it must distribute 5 percent of its assets each year.
Beneficiaries probably will receive money in installments, based on performance, Mastrean said. The foundation will want to know what the money is to be used for, how it is used and what the results are.
Already, Mastrean said, the foundation is one of the largest in Kentucky.
It has leased the old PNC Bank building on Bypass Road near U.S. 60 for office space, and it's the board's intention that Algire will eventually have a small staff.
Mastrean said, "We're going to be here for a long, long time."