House passes bill to extend time line for Gadsden hospital

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By Alice Du Pont

House Bill 873, which authorizes the state Agency for Health Care Administration to extend the inactive license for 12 months to Gadsden County Hospital, passed in the Florida House of Representatives last Thursday. The bill, introduced by Rep. Alan Williams, passed by a vote of 114-1 and is now in the Senate and, if it passes there, will be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature.

The extension gives the county the time needed to complete the facility and time to locate a funding source to pay for furniture, fixtures and equipment that could cost as much as $2.1 million and the $2.5 million needed on deposit for the first 6 months of the hospital's operation.

Eugene Lamb, chairman of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners, said he was pleased that the bill passed in the house.

"It's a good thing and we're looking forward to the Senate passing the bill. This will give us much-needed time to think through the funding sources we need for the furniture and equipment. We don't have the money we need right now," said Lamb.

The building will be completed by the June 21 deadline imposed by ACHA, according to Clyde Collins, the county's hosptial project manager. But during the April 7 meeting of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners, discussion of where to get the money for start-up costs took up nearly 2 hours.

"Obviously it's moving in the right direction. Now all it has to do is get through the Senate and go to conference because the bills were a little bit different, but I don't expect that to be a big deal," said Gadsden Hospital Inc. Board of Directors Chairman Craig McMillan.

"I am proud to be among the freshmen members to pass legislation and to have bipartisan support from colleagues of both parties on this bill. Gadsden County needs a hospital and the county and community have diligently worked to reopen it, including approving a half-cent sales tax for the purpose of funding the hospital. The reopening of the hospital will provide Gadsden citizens with the tools and resources needed to address health care in a county with disparities in health," Williams said in a press release from his office last Friday.