Size matters: Debate over medical office building continues

Apr 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Top Story

With the pieces falling into place for the parish’s future hospital, one persisting point of debate concerns the square footage of the medical office building to be built adjacent to the hospital.

Current plans call for a medical office building of 30,000 square feet to house both hospital administrative offices and physicians’ offices. That square footage, along with the plans for the hospital, have already been sent to the state for approval. Now, though, Hospital Service District and St. Bernard Council Chairman Wayne Landry is pushing for a larger scale medical office building – one that would offer at least 60,000 square feet.

“We just commissioned a feasibility study for $50,000 to tell us everything we need to know about the medical office building,” Landry said this week. “The study came back saying we need a minimum of 60,000 square feet, but if we could, we should build 80,000 square feet.”

Landry said ideally the medical office building would be three stories, with 20,000 square feet on each floor.

Unfortunately, he said, the current funding for the medical complex – nearly $70 million – provides for only 30,000 square feet. Additional funds are needed, Landry said, to increase the capacity of the medical office building.

And to achieve that increased square footage, Landry is pushing parish and state officials to shift $5 million of Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) funds currently dedicated for slab removal in the parish to the medical office building project.

But more than a month after the council passed a resolution advocating the $5 million reallocation, that effort is still being met with some stiff resistance from both the parish administration and the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Parish President Craig Taffaro said he simply does not want to sacrifice one recovery project for another.

“We have worked on getting the slab removal money in place for over two years,” Taffaro said. “To give that money up when it’s an essential part of the recovery process would be imprudent on our part.”

“This should not be pitted against the hospital as an either-or situation,” he added.

Louisiana Recovery Authority leaders announced to great fanfare earlier this year its program for removing slabs in St. Bernard Parish that were left over after houses were sold to the state’s Road Home Program. After some additional work, parish and LRA leaders were able to secure federal funding to removing non-Road Home slabs in the parish as well.

And because of the extended efforts on the parts of both parish and LRA officials to secure the slab removal funds, LRA spokesperson Christina Stephens said it is unlikely those funds will be shifted to the office building.

“It was something we really had to fight the Feds to do, and we made a commitment to fight with Mr. Taffaro to get the money,” Stephens said. “In order to really put the property back into commerce, you have to remove the slab and put it back to green space.”

For any reallocation of the funds to take place, Stephens said the LRA would have to receive definitive communication from Taffaro in support of shifting those funds.

“If the parish president comes to us and everyone says ‘We don’t want to remove the slabs,’ we’ll sit down and have a discussion,” Stephens said. “However, it’s been our understanding from the parish president that one of the number one priorities is removing these slabs so they can move forward with economic development in the parish.”

Taffaro said he in no way anticipates supporting shifting the money from slab removal to the medical office building.

“It would be the same thing as if the Hospital Service District came to take a chunk out of one of our operating accounts,” Taffaro said.

Taffaro said, if necessary, the medical office building could be expanded in the future. He also wondered whether a public-private partnership could be developed to channel additional funds into the project. Regardless, he pledged his support for the hospital complex, but not at the expense of slab removal parish wide.

“We will continue to support efforts to find additional funds,” he said.

Landry, though, emphasized that attracting quality physicians to the parish is crucial to the success of the hospital. Under the 30,000 square foot plan, about half would be taken up by the hospital administration, Landry said. That does not leave much space for practicing physicians, he said.

“They’re going to have to have space to work out of,” Landry said of physicians in the future office building. “It’s critical to have enough office space to attract physicians to our hospital and retain them once they get here.”

Landry also objected to the idea that the reallocation would not be considered without Taffaro’s endorsement.

“That money is not for Craig Taffaro,” Landry said.

Landry has said he anticipates construction on the hospital complex to begin within months. Construction on the project, he said, should take between 15 and 18 months.

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