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Sacred Heart takes proposal off the table

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times

Ascension Sacred Heart has withdrawn its proposal to partner with the county regarding health care, even as it plans an expansion of services in the county.

“We removed our proposal. We are no longer interested in negotiating with the Franklin County commission,” said Roger Hall, president of Ascension’s hospitals in Miramar Beach and Port. Joe. “Our position is that we’re no longer offering to work with the Franklin County commission on reconfiguring health care.

“After the county commissioners voted, it should be clear it’s how they want to move forward,” he said. “That’s their choice. We made a very, very generous proposal. We approached it with all sincerity to be a health care proposal.

“That’s the decision. We understand and we’ll move on,” he said. “We wish them luck, and we wish the residents of Franklin County good fortune.”

Hall said earlier this month he wrote to each of the commissioners that the offer was no longer on the table. Ascension had proposed investing millions to equip a freestanding emergency room that would replace the existing Weems facility, which currently offers an ER as well as 25 licensed hospital beds. If the facility were replaced, the county would cover that cost, and would no longer have any licensed acute care beds. In addition Ascension proposed to expand the operations of clinics with the addition of more specialists within the county.

“We love Franklin County, and we enjoyed the experience,” said Hall. “We’ve been very successful in serving communities across the Panhandle. We understand that success comes with a partnership with the community where we’re invited and wanted. That’s an environment we find successful to go to.

“We find within the population in Franklin County, we didn’t find a welcoming format from the county commissioners,” he said. “We don’t want a relationship with the county when there’s not that welcoming partnership. If everyone isn’t 100 percent that we’re the partner, we don’t want to be there. We got plenty to do in plenty of places.”

Hall, who at age 71 is stepping down July 10 to become a part-time senior business developer for Ascension, stressed the non-profit health care giant intends to expand its services in the county.

“We’re looking for additional space for another physician and another midlevel in Franklin County,” he said. “Where is undetermined. We’re currently looking for that space.”

He said Ascension’s physical therapy practice in downtown Apalachicola may also relocate once its lease runs out.

“We have a very vibrant physical therapy medicine practice that is at capacity,” Hall said. “We’re now evaluating where to move that, and we’re looking for additional space.

“We’re currently investigating where we can move and we will do that as quickly as we can find suitable space or property to build suitable space,” he said. “We’ve grown out of that so we have the option of finding like space in another location.”

Hall added that Ascension to live out the terms of its current lease.

“We have every intention in doing everything we can to meet the needs of the Franklin County people,” he said, adding that the hospital in Port St. Joe provides more uncompensated care than does Weems, and that MyGULFCare takes care of about 12 to 15 of the most vulnerable people in Franklin County.

“We’re not a predator,” he said. “We live our mission. We own up to our mission.”