POINCIANA – As Poinciana moves closer to the groundbreaking ceremony for the community’s first hospital, one of Poinciana’s first medical offices is struggling in its efforts to expand and construct new buildings needed to serve local residents.
“We’re not going to give up on the public health building,” said Nick Murdock, the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance. “That project is shovel-ready and could start immediately.”
What it doesn’t have, though, is one critical element: money. And the reason that money hasn’t materialized, Murdock said, is politics.
“I’ve talked to three (state) representatives who have told me they will not vote for this,” Murdock said.
Poinciana, a community of 10 villages that cut across Polk and Osceola counties, has two major health care projects in the pipeline. One appears to be ready to move forward, while the other is languishing.
The project getting the green light is the community’s first hospital. Osceola Regional Medical Center, the hospital in Kissimmee, just announced it will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the Poinciana Medical Center on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The hospital will be constructed on the corner of Cypress Parkway and Solivita Boulevard, right near the Solivita development. The first phase of the Medical Center, a Freestanding Emergency Department, is expected to open its doors in early 2013. The emergency department will be an 11,000-square-foot facility with 12 examination rooms.
The main hospital will include a 16-slice CT, radiography and fluoroscopy room, ultrasound, laboratory, and pharmacy. There will also be an EMS entrance and helicopter pad for rapid transport of critically ill patients to Osceola Regional Medical Center, which is in downtown Kissimmee.
“The hospital per se finally has a name, the Poinciana Medical Center,” said Fernando Valverde, a founder of Friends of the Poinciana Hospital, a group that lobbied to make sure Osceola Regional remained committed to this project.
“This is a $65 million project,” Valverde said. “The emergency room section will take 14 months to finish. The hospital itself will be a two-story hospital. That takes 16 months. So all total, it’s 30 months.”
It’s a project that experienced a number of false starts. Recognizing the need in this community, Osceola Regional decided to build the first hospital in Poinciana, but the hospital’s application to the state government was challenged by existing medical facilities in Haines City and St. Cloud — Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center and St. Cloud Regional Medical Center. Those facilities claimed that building a hospital in Poinciana would exacerbate an existing nursing shortage. Osceola Regional’s request for a certificate of need was twice rejected before the state finally approved the application.
By 2010, the recession and ongoing credit crunch made it difficult for Osceola Regional to secure the funding needed to begin construction. Another problem was that the certificate of need expires in the spring, so construction had to start by March or Osceola Regional will be forced to re-apply.
But now, with an actual date for the groundbreaking, what was once just a vision is now clearly a reality, Valverde said.
“This is the beginning of a dream,” he said. “This has taken us six years to get here.”
It also demonstrates, he said, that if Poinciana’s residents want something badly enough and are willing to work hard to get it, that work will pay off.
Valverde said the efforts of Friends of the Poinciana Hospital and the entire community to keep pushing for this project is a classic example of how a community can achieve results.
“It will later on be studied in courses on public relations and communications,” he said. “This is about a dream. It’s not about the details, the small stuff. It’s the big plans.”
This project is expected to bring hundreds of new construction jobs to the community, and the Poinciana Medical Center will have a staff of 200 workers. At the same time, other medical businesses are expected to cluster around the hospital, bringing even more jobs to the community.
Murdock said he’s also working with the construction company hired to build the Poinciana Medical Center about setting up a job fair for those construction jobs.
“I have talked with the construction manager, who is out of Birmingham (Ala.),” Murdock said. “We’re going to try to organize a job fair with them. March 1 is kind of the placeholder date, but I think it’s likely we’ll slide back on that to either the end of March or April.”
Murdock agreed that the lesson learned from this project is not to get discouraged, or give up hope, even when a project stalls.
“Some things just take time, and we’re not all patient, and sometimes time can move to years,” he said.
Murdock is hoping the community has the same patience for another project that clearly is stalled.
The Poinciana Health Care Clinic on Doverplum Avenue opened a new, 16,000 square feet facility last year, but was denied the chance for further expansion when the clinic lost out on a federal grant that would have enabled them to construct three more offices on their property.
The construction work was being financed through a grant from the federal Health Resource Services Administration program, and the new building replaced two aging modular units. Moving into the new building enabled the clinic to introduce a dental plan.
The clinic also won a federal grant to construct three new buildings on the property, and work had already started getting the land ready.
But the grant was rejected last summer by lawmakers in the Florida House of Representatives, because the money came through ObamaCare, the universal health care plan approved by Congress in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama. The Florida Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, did not want to accept any federal funding from the Obama administration’s health care law, so the entire funding package got rejected.
Since lawmakers could not separate the grant financing the construction work at the Poinciana Health Care Clinic from the rest of the federal health care funds, all of the federal money was turned down.
Murdock said he doubts that the Florida Legislature, in a political election year, will reverse that decision and accept money from ObamaCare, even if it does help a project in Poinciana.
That’s unfortunate, Murdock said.
“Poinciana is the largest community in the state that not have a public health building,” he said.
PEDA is looking to see if they can find a private investor to fund those new buildings. If not, he said, PEDA would continue to try to convince lawmakers that this is a project worth supporting.
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