POINCIANA – Years of false starts, disappointments and plenty of frustration didn’t discourage Annette Brown-Best or Fernando Valverde. If anything, it made them work that much harder.
On Tuesday, the founders of the group Friends of the Poinciana Hospital stood on the field that is going to become the home to the Poinciana Medical Center and reveled in the fact that their organization had demonstrated one thing: hard work and persistence pays off.
“I am so happy today,” Brown-Best said. “I have jitters and I am besides myself.”
“We formed a dynamic duo, to tell you the truth,” Valverde added.
It wasn’t always that way.
On Tuesday, Brown-Best and Valverde joined with Osceola County commissioners, officials from Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee and its parent company, HCA Heath Care, in a groundbreaking ceremony on a field off Solivita Boulevard and Cypress Parkway, marking the official start of construction for the Poinciana Medical Center. It will be the first hospital in this community of 10 villages and more than 84,000 people, as well as a medical office building and a freestanding emergency department. HCA, which is building the facilities, is spending $65 million on the project, and once fully operational in the next 18 months, it will employ 200 people. That doesn’t include the short-term construction jobs or what is expected to be scores of jobs created from health care companies that lease space from the medical office building or open offices close by – a big shot in the arm to a community hard hit by the collapse of the housing market.
Tuesday truly was a day for the community to celebrate a long awaited victory as the project became a reality. And repeatedly, it was noted how critical it was that the entire community rallied behind this project and never stopped fighting to make it happen.
“I approached 250 residents with a map and asked them what does the Poinciana Medical Center symbolize to you, what does the Poinciana Medical Center symbolize to the community,” Valverde said. “One said ‘The long trips to Kissimmee will no longer be required.’ “
Another resident, he said, gave him an answer in Spanish, which Valverde translated as “It is an answer to my prayers – thank God.”
Despite the excitement on Tuesday, this project at first was by no means a sure bet. Back in 2007, when Osceola Regional Medical Center initially proposed building the first hospital in Poinciana, their application to the state Agency for Health Care Administration was challenged by two existing regional hospitals, Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center in Haines City and St. Cloud Regional Medical Center. They argued that the construction of a new hospital in Poinciana would exacerbate an existing nursing shortage in the area, and twice the state Agency for Health Care Administration agreed and denied Osceola Regional Medical Center’s request for a certificate of need.
That was one of the reasons why Valverde and Brown-Best formed Friends of the Poinciana Hospital, to lobby Tallahassee to grant the certificate of need. Through their work, and the support of state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, the state finally approved the certificate of need in 2009. But the project got delayed because HCA had a challenge getting the financing to begin construction as the collapse in the housing market led to a credit crunch that made it extremely difficult to secure the loans needed to move this project forward.
Throughout all these setbacks, Friends of the Poinciana Hospital remained focused on keeping the project on track – and their hard work paid off, said J. Daniel Miller, president of HCA’s West Florida division.
“The Friend of the Poinciana Hospital is probably one of the most active community groups I have ever seen over the years,” he said.
Kathryn J. Gillette, chief executive officer at Osceola Regional Medical Center, agreed, and paid tribute to both Valverde and Brown-Best during the groundbreaking ceremony.
“I’d like the Friends of the Poinciana Hospital to come over here and put a handprint in the concrete that will become a piece of the hospital,” Gillette said. “I think this is a nice memory for them.”
Brown-Best, Valverde and other members of the group that disbanded last year when it became clear the hospital was definitely going to get built said there’s no question that if a community wants something bad enough, they have to be prepared to fight for it.
“Fernando affectionately calls me the bulldozer,” Brown-Best said.
“This hospital is not just a new hospital,” Valverde said. “It symbolizes hope – and not just hope that things will turn around.”
He also presented Gillette with a plaque on behalf of the Friends group, “presented to Osceola Regional Medical Center for making the Poinciana Medical Center a reality,” Valverde said. “”God almighty is in control. He takes us and does within his will.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.