If financing can be obtained next year, Weems Memorial Hospital is on course to embark on a $10.2 million expansion, about half the size of the $20 million to $25 million rebuild talked about in recent years.

Following input from county commissioners and the hospital board at a joint workshop earlier this fall, Weems CEO Ray Brownsworth has further pared down the project from its most recent $14 million price tag.

Drawings from the Sarasota architectural firm of TRO Jung | Brannen show current plans to add about 8,000 square feet to be used as a four-room emergency department, complete with a new imaging suite with CT scan.

The existing hospital would be renovated, including a new roof and new utilities. The private wing which now features 25 beds, many in shared units, would be transformed into only private rooms, each with toilet and shower.

The campus’ outside aesthetics would be upgraded. Rooms now used for the Weems West clinic would find new uses, with clinic services moved to the adjacent former health department building which most recently was leased by the county to Dr. Stephen Miniat.

The hospital has expended $40,000 in renovating Miniat’s former offices, which are now used for one full-time provider and a part-time provider. The plan is to have it serve two fulltime practitioners and a part-time one, likely a visiting orthopedic specialty group that can see patients several days a month.

Brownsworth said the $10.2 million could cover the cost of the entire project. The hospital has long planned to seek financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural construction arm, at an interest rate of about 4.5 percent.

The CEO said plans are to look also into possible financing through private channels, or from the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. Application would be made within six months, he said, with construction completed sometime in 2016.

Brownsworth said of the money currently earmarked for capital improvements out of the one-cent health care sales tax, about 90 percent of the $57,000 monthly infusion would go towards paying off construction debt. Another $10,000 is spent each month on funding the clinic services.


In search of a new provider

The infrastructure plans come at a time of changes within the Weems West clinic. Susan Hardin, the advanced registered nurse practitioner has had to step aside due to a decision by Medicare to no longer allow her to bill for her ARNP services.

Brownsworth said Medicare’s decision came because of a “technical violation” that Hardin had not completed the necessary master’s level courses mandated as of 2002. He said Hardin, fully licensed as an ARNP since 1995, remains in good standing as a practitioner.

The problem is she believed herself to be grandfathered in when the rule change was made a decade ago, Brownsworth said, and Medicare did not indicate a problem over the last 11 years.

“She does a great job,” he said. “We don’t want to lose her.”

Brownsworth said he is looking for a practitioner to replace Hardin, as she continues to look into how to earn the necessary credits or secure a waiver from Medicare.

Beginning this week, duties at Weems West are being divided up between Dana Whaley ARNP, and Dr. Eugene Charbonneau. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, from 8 to 5 p.m.

He said Whaley and Charbonneau have been seeing about 20 to 25 patients per day at Weems East in Carrabelle, while Weems West has only been attracting about eight to 10 patients per day. He said he expects the clinic’s volume in Apalachicola to rise once renovation is fully complete on Miniat’s former offices.