POINCIANA – After several years of lobbying, disappointment, setbacks and some clear successes, the community group Friends of the Poinciana Hospital has been officially dissolved.
But that, it turns out, is a good thing. It wasn’t a lack of participation, community apathy or an inability to have a positive impact that caused this group to disband. It was something else entirely.
“They feel their job has been done,” said Wendy Farrell, a strong supporter of the group’s main goal: to ensure that Osceola Regional Medical Center fulfills its pledge to build the first hospital in Poinciana.
And the civic group – formed to help lobby Florida government in favor of this project – now feels the hospital’s construction is a certainty, and they no longer have a compelling reason to exist.
“We’re having a final breakfast meeting on Thursday morning at 8 o’clock,” said Jeanette Coughenour, the manager of Poinciana’s homeowners association, the Association of Poinciana Villages. “There’s really not much more as an organization that we can do at this point. The next point is to start building and start hiring.”
The future didn’t always look that crystal clear. Although Osceola Regional, the medical facility based in downtown Kissimmee, rolled out plans to build a hospital in Poinciana several years ago, it took some hard work and community lobbying to convince the state of Florida to provide this project with a certificate of needs, which clears the way for construction to begin.
Two other local hospitals – Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center and St. Cloud Regional Medical Center – filed challenges to the certificate of need, arguing that a new hospital in this part of Central Florida would exacerbate an already problematic nursing shortage.
The state initially denied Osceola Regional the right to build the Poinciana hospital, although after strong lobbying from the community and from local lawmakers like state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, the state relented.
That initial question – whether the state would give the green light for the project – was the impetus behind the formation of Friends of the Poinciana Hospital. The organizers wanted to keep building community support for this project to ensure it became a reality.
Any concerns that supporters had about the project’s future were alleviated last month when Katherine Gillette, the CEO of Osceola Regional, attended a town hall meeting in Poinciana and reaffirmed that the hospital would get built and the project would break ground before next spring.
That’s exactly what supporters wanted to hear.
“The people of Poinciana only feel it’s a done deal now because the property has been sold,” said Robert J. Bornstein, who lives in the Solivita development.
That land is across the street from Solivita off Cypress Parkway.
Bornstein, who spent 35 years as a health care executive – including being the CEO of a hospital on Long Island, N.Y. – said the fact that Osceola Regional purchased the property is a clear indication they’re serious about constructing the facility.
“Now they’re bound, and now, yes, I think they do plan to build it,” he said.
He also noted that the certificate of need expires in March, meaning Osceola Regional will have to begin construction before then or risk losing state approval and having to reapply for it.
“They’re going to have to put some shovel in the ground by March,” Bornstein said. “But once that shovel goes in the ground, that’s it, that’s a commitment.”
Gillette attended the meeting at the Poinciana Community Center on Thursday, July 28 and announced that the last portion of land – 35.8 acres – was purchased from the developer Avatar on June 28. Ten additional acres had been purchased last year for a Medical Arts Building that will house offices for physicians.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is expected to approve plans for a free standing emergency room by October. That 11,000 square foot emergency room is expected to open by the fall of 2012.
The hospital will take roughly 18 months to construct, and will have a minimum of 60 beds. Poinciana Hospital will not be licensed under Osceola Regional Medical Center, but instead will have its own personnel, including a chief executive officer and chief operating officer.
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