Phil Hofstetter, CEO of Petersburg Medical Center, will provide information on the number of residents in the district’s assembly chambers on Wednesday May 5, 2021 in the hospital’s long-term care wing. Clockwise from left, members of the Chelsea Tremblay Congregation, Dave Kensinger, Jeigh Stanton Gregor, Cindi Lagoudakis Hospital Board member and Bob Lynn Congregation member listen during Wednesday’s working session. (Courtesy clerk photo Debbie Thompson)

The board of directors of the Petersburg Medical Center asked for assistance in pursuing a new hospital facility in a working session with the Petersburg District Assembly on Wednesday. Some members of the congregation continue to push for the high cost of building a new community hospital.

Shortly before the global health pandemic, the local community hospital released its full master plan. The board and staff were ready to make decisions about the location of a new facility and raise funds for the design and site prep work needed to advance the project. A year later, the Petersburg Medical Center asked for the congregation’s support for the project. Phil Hofstetter, CEO of the medical center, outlined the next steps.

“To be able to think of an 80 million dollar building, we have to have a selected location,” said Hofstetter, adding, “We have to have unified support. We have to be able to go to fellows to do that. “

Hofstetter recommended preparing the project for construction over the next 4 to 5 years and seeking external funding, with potential sources from the Denali Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Rasmuson Foundation.

PMC’s master plan included five locations for a new facility, including one near the existing building and others near Haugen Drive, Ballfelder, or Mountain View Manor. According to cost estimates, the total construction costs for three different construction options are between 66 and 79 million US dollars, for these options between 92 and 110 million US dollars. Hofstetter said he expected further study of the sites would help select them based on Muskeg depth, access to utilities, and other cost considerations.

The hospital staff and board of directors said the community must prepare for the existing building to age and fail.

CEO Jerod Cook reiterated the need to make a decision.

“This project will never get cheaper. So if we are to go in that direction we need to keep moving because if we don’t, we need to choose where we are going as a community to go with our medical facility and medical treatment, ”Cook said. “So I guess for me it’s just that we have to try.”

Board member Cindi Lagoudakis noted that the cost of a new building continues to rise.

“If we keep dragging our feet, these costs will go up,” she said. “If we drag our feet further, the hospital will have increased maintenance costs just to keep it functional. If we don’t keep it working, over 100 jobs will leave this community and affect the quality of life in Petersburg, and these are all important things. “

The assembly voted in March to list the planning and design work for the project as one of the top federal funding priorities. But it wasn’t a unanimous vote. Some members of the congregation said they were unwilling to commit to this directive for the hospital.

“I don’t feel like I’m dragging my feet on this thing,” said Congregation member Jeff Meucci.

“I think when that $ 84 million price came up and we postponed this project a few months ago to like our number four on the capital priority list, there was no discussion about it and I was like, OK, we are all in all on this project, ”said Meucci. “And I personally am not all involved in the project. I know we have to do something different. I need to be able to tell the voters in the ward that this is a good idea. “

Meucci said the congregation had heard recent opposition from the community to the construction of other public buildings. With this price tag, the municipality is not talking about a loan for this amount, but is far beyond Petersburg’s debt capacity.

Mayor Mark Jensen said Petersburg should consider other options.

“I agree with the concept of a community run hospital, but with many of them failing across the country, the discussion was previously taken over by PeaceHealth or (the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium) or whatever before I could help move If I want to give land or support it, I would love to have a discussion with other similar companies who could say what they have to offer, ”said Jensen.

SEARHC, the regional health consortium in Southeast Alaska, has built a new hospital in Wrangell and is building another in Sitka. This spring she also took over behavioral health services and a dental practice in Peterburg.

The hospital staff and the board of directors advocated keeping the medical center under local control. Dr. Courtney Hess commented that the local doctors were against a major health company taking over the medical center.

With around 155 employees, the hospital with critical access has seen a certain increase in staff in recent years. Hofstetter said it pays around $ 11-12 million in salaries. And he said local control means the ability to meet Petersburg’s needs more quickly.

Congregation member, Chelsea Tremblay, supported local control of the facility and thought a gradual approach to the high dollar project would make sense.

“And that’s just how I figure out how to put that foot in front of the other,” Tremblay said. “Because for me the alternative is somehow unthinkable. All things difficult with the right to health care become much more difficult without community input and decision-making ability. For example, when we have a health care provider that we cannot share our frustrations with and that we require a timely response from, all of these things only get more difficult. “

The next step could be to study the location options and the assembly could consider a solution to support the project.

The assembly and board also had a long discussion about the operation of the medical center and the areas that have seen growth or decline during the pandemic. Hofstetter said PMC’s home health service grew dramatically over the past year but was already being used by the community before the pandemic. At the same time there was a decline in some hospital services, such as B. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The medical center is also expanding some services such as behavioral health and has hired some of the clinicians who previously worked for Petersburg Mental Health Services.