County commissioners Tuesday morning voted to freeze further spending of the more than $200,000 they had earmarked last month towards securing a price on a revised set of plans for a newly renovated Weems Memorial Hospital.
The 4-1 vote, with Chairman Noah Lockley firmly against, came after commissioners agreed to a request from County Coordinator Michael Morón to hold a series of workshops in October and November with the region’s’ three major hospital players.
These would include HCA Health Care, which encompasses Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City and Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee; Sacred Heart, which has Bay Medical in Panama City and Sacred Heart on the Gulf in Port St. Joe, and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, with which Weems is now loosely affiliated.
Morón said he discussed with HCA Weems’ current interim CEO status and other matters relating to Weems including the new facility project and telemedicine. “HCA expressed a desire to partner with Weems as the commissioners and the Weems board of directors moves forward with improving healthcare across the county,” he said.
Morón said he envisions the three hospital players will make presentations to the commissioners and the Weems board, and hold preliminary meetings with Lockley, Weems Board Chairman Doug Creamer, and Weems CEO David Walker prior to the workshops.
“I think it’s one of the best ways for us to move forward with the management of Weems and health care overall in the county," Morón said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Lockley said.
What wasn’t a good idea to the commission chairman, though, was Commissioner Ricky Jones’ motion, and Bert Boldt’s second, to freeze spending on securing a Guaranteed Minimum Price (GMP) for a new Weems facility.
“I’ve been listening to this for the last 10 years, that’s a bunk of junk,” he said. “The GMP, you’re putting it off. You’re putting off the hospital, that’s what you’re doing.
“I keep on telling those same public people, they didn’t want it then, they ain’t gonna want it now,” said Lockley, referring to the opposition to the sales tax referendum 12 years ago to levy a penny sales tax to help fund a new hospital.
He referred directly to Allan Feifer, president of the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, which has questioned Weems’ expansion plans at nearly every meeting.
“Allan ain’t going to use it,” he said, noting that he lives in Alligator Point, which is roughly as close to Tallahassee as it is to Apalachicola. “I wouldn’t come here either (if I lived there). The rest are Sacred Heart people, I mean it is what it is.”
Jones said he had no desire to kill the Weems project, only to ensure the county’s hands weren’t tied going into further discussions.
“If we’re going to move forward with having workshops, it needs to be on a level footing,” he said. “We can’t go forward with getting a GMP when we don’t know what the proposals will be.
“My intent is not to bash or delay,” he said. “It’s to try our dead level best so it’s a level playing field.”
Bold issued a strong note of support for the freeze.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to begin a great discussion,” he said. “I agree we need to look at this GMP issue; we’re looking at a 12-year-old set of plans. I don’t think it has relevancy.
“I say time out,” he said. “We’re not rejecting the public’s desire for a new health care system. We need a health care facility to stabilize people and dispatch them to the proper health care settings. Let’s just drill down and look at it more in detail.
“We’re resetting the button for our health care look-at,” Boldt said. “It’s a new day.”