© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

County Takes 'Wait-n'-See' Approach To Proposed Hospital Permit

Ascension-Ministry Health Care

RHINELANDER – An Oneida County committee will take another two weeks before voting on Marshfield Clinic’s proposal to build a $30-35 million hospital adjacent to its Minocqua Center and less than two blocks from Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff.

Planning and Development wants the extra time to study documents submitted by Marshfield Clinic and Ministry/Ascension (which owns Howard Young), as well as to visit the site of the proposed 12-bed hospital on Wednesday, May 10. Yesterday,(5/3) the five-member panel tallied questions it wants to ask the two healthcare providers prior to their Wednesday, May 17 meeting at the county courthouse, Rhinelander. Despite nearly five hours of public testimony April 27, and lots of reading material, committee members say they aren’t ready to vote on an issue that could change how healthcare is delivered in the greater Minocqua area.

“I haven’t read the binders (of materials submitted at the public hearing),” said committee chair Scott Holewinski. “The bottom line is I want more time.”

Yesterday, Billy Fried of Minocqua pushed fellow committee members to deliberate on the conditional use permit (CUP) concurrent with the May 3 on-site visit, but was rebuffed. “The broad discussion has been about what this CUP will do to the wellness of the community,” Fried said. “I think we need to get over the hump of wellness of the community so we get back to our standard CUP discussion. Why do the onsite if we haven’t settled that discussion about the community?” The committee directed a few questions to the clinic and hospital officials in the audience, which were mostly answered with head nods.

However, members came up with several more questions which they directed zoning office staff to send to Marshfield Clinic and Ministry/Ascension. Committee member Dave Hintz had five questions for Marshfield Clinic, centering on storm water runoff impact on neighboring homes, the increase in helicopter traffic (Marshfield wants a heliport), traffic flow and volume on Townline Road and off Highway 70 West, current and future employee numbers, and the impact on the “health and general welfare” of the community. For Fried, it was a question of the impact on local healthcare services if the CUP was denied, the $50 million that Howard Young left the hospital that bears his name, and how it might be retained in the community if Howard Young Medical Center closes.

Holewinski had questions similar to the others, but also asked if Marshfield Clinic would accept all patients and all insurance at their hospital, site layout and floor plan. Some have wondered if the committee’s line of questioning at times has departed from the areas they are charged with, and more into business practices. Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Fugle  said members were free to ask any questions that want, but they must be careful that their CUP decision is based on applicable zoning issues. “I think the real concern is what you base your decision on,” he said. “It’s not the questions so much that cause problems as what ultimately your decision is based upon. If you base your decision on a financial/competition basis, then I think you start to get outside the purview of what’s appropriate.”

Contacted afterwards, both Dr. William Melms, regional director of Marshfield Clinic, and Sandy Anderson, President of Howard Young, said they would answer the written questions. The two healthcare providers are in a battle over whether the county should issue the permit to Marshfield Clinic to build their hospital. While Howard Young officials say they won’t close down their hospital, they are adamant that a competing hospital would severely challenge their financial picture, including having to recruit their own physicians. For their part, Marshfield Clinic promises to pick up the pieces if Howard Young reduces services or the number of inpatient beds.

In addition, they say they can deliver healthcare at a lower cost than Howard Young currently is able to do. Howard Young isn’t idly sitting by, however. They have renovation plans of their own – decided upon, they say, before Marshfield Clinic came forward with their hospital plans. While they will spend millions of dollars on renovation, Anderson says the scope and totality of the work will depend on the outcome of the Marshfield Clinic CUP. Howard Young has a license for 99 beds, but currently staffs 32 medical surgical, 10 ICU and 8 labor and delivery for a total of 50 beds. The county originally scheduled the public hearing for April 6, but delayed it three weeks.

With the upcoming delays, Melms acknowledges that their hospital wouldn’t be completed until early 2018, even if the CUP were approved May 17. He quotes his planners as saying “it’s a 10-month hospital” to build. The committee did extend the CUP review time to 180 days as it has taken about 90 days already, including getting approval from the Minocqua Town Board and its planning commission.

Up North Updates
* indicates required