As city leaders prepare to vote Tuesday on an annexation of 336 acres, opponents of that action question the commitment of Bluegrass Community Hospital to relocate onto the land.
After Versailles City Council gave first reading to an annexation and rezoning ordinance on July 19, Karen Isberg noted in a comment on the Facebook page of Citizens for Sustainable Community Growth that there was no discussion among the council members. “There was no mention of a hospital, because there is no commitment from them,” Isberg wrote.
“The ‘promise’ of a new hospital is the carrot being dangled in front of the public as an excuse to develop ... extremely valuable and sensitive rural land,” Isberg wrote in a May letter to The Woodford Sun.
Others have also privately and publicly questioned whether the hospital intends to relocate onto the land near the corner of U.S. 60 and Paynes Mill Road. That parcel is part of the 336 acres to be rezoned and annexed by city council.
Tommy Haggard, CEO of Bluegrass Community Hospital, acknowledged that no land has been purchased but he said the hospital and its parent company, Tennessee-based LifePoint, are committed to bringing a new facility to Versailles.
“If we could get the zoning that would allow us to go there, then we have a commitment to do so,” Haggard said. “But it would probably be foolish for us to purchase if the zoning wasn’t going to be allowed to fulfill our purpose.
“For us to make that type of investment without the assurance that we’ll be able to proceed with building would be foolish on our part,” Haggard said.
Haggard said “my intentions and my aspirations for the team here and for the community is entirely in locating and building a state-of-the-art hospital facility to service the needs of the community for now and generations to come.”
Haggard said he has a responding question for opponents: “Are they willing to say that if the hospital is committed to building the project that they will stop opposing? …If the hospital guarantees that they are committed, do they guarantee to stop the opposition?”
Billy Van Pelt II, CEO of Woodford Forward, a group that advocates for farmland preservation, and other annexation opponents say they aren’t against a new hospital. They say there are other places to put it without expanding the urban service boundary. That boundary is designed to protect rural areas and farms from the intrusion of urban uses, while providing sufficient land for urban development where public services such as water and sewer lines can be provided efficiently and effectively.
For example, Van Pelt said the hospital could go on 70 acres of Edgewood Farm that is currently within the urban service boundary and just east the new Kroger on U.S. 60.
Van Pelt and others also say that property at Ky. 33 and Blue Grass Parkway, once the proposed site for a Walmart Supercenter, provides the visibility and accessibility that hospital officials desire.
“Woodford Forward would also support the rezoning of other land within the urban service boundary of Versailles to allow the hospital to be constructed to provide the community with an appropriate health care facility,” Van Pelt said.
Haggard said the preferred tract near Paynes Mill Road puts the hospital away from higher-density uses and Kroger. The Paynes Mill site is better situated for ambulances coming in and leaving the hospital, and “gives us a little more room to grow.”
The hospital had looked at the Ky. 33-parkway site years ago, but Haggard said the site close to Paynes Mill Road is better location “for our purposes today.”
The hospital is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood on Amsden Avenue, the same place the hospital began in 1907. It had two expansions in 1940 and 1960, but to retrofit the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems would be too expensive, Haggard told the planning commission in April. Haggard acknowledged in an interview that the hospital is looking for a site where it would have more visibility.
“Where we are now we have no visibility from the main road,” Haggard said. “Twenty-five years ago that may not have been as important. But as a lot of other independent or outpatient services have popped up, that has kind of diluted the thinking of a hospital as where you go for those services. You always need to be in front of people. If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind.”
Bluegrass Community Hospital employs 130 part-time and full-time people, and has an annual payroll of more than $5.5 million and gross revenues of $40 million, Haggard said.
The hospital would not have more beds at a new location, he said.
“They way we’re licensed right now as a critical access hospital, we’re capped at 25 beds,” Haggard said. “We would build in similar size and scope to what we are now.”
Since the former Woodford Memorial Hospital closed in 2000 amid financial struggles and then reopened under new management as Bluegrass Community Hospital in early 2001, LifePoint has “been a solid community partner and has been faithful with everything that we said we would do,” Haggard said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that we wouldn’t fulfill our commitment on this.
“Now we have several things going on the in the background that we’re ready to follow through with just as soon as the zoning takes place, such as a letter of intent (to purchase),” Haggard said. “Those are moot until the zoning is appropriate.”
The second reading and vote on the rezoning and annexation ordinance is on the agenda for Versailles City Council’s meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.