On Sept. 20, hundreds came out to see 10 golden shovels throw the first spadefuls of dirt for the new Fishermen’s Community Hospital, set to cost $43.3 million and be complete in two years.

“I cried three times,” said Mike Leonard, unabashedly. Leonard is the board chairman of the Fishermen’s Community Hospital Council that operates under the umbrella of the C. “It was just an amazing day.”

Rick Freeburg is the CEO of Baptist Health South Florida’s hospital in Tavernier, Mariners Hospital, as well as Fishermen’s Community Hospital. Fishermen’s was destroyed by Hurricane Irma; afterward, staff first operated out of a tent hospital, and now a modular hospital while the demolition of the old facility and construction of the new one takes place.

“We are active in the community and want to stay that way,” Freeburg said. “This is really a monumental event for us.”

Fishermen’s Community Hospital
The $43.3 million hospital will be built in the footprint of the former facility while the modular hospital continues to operate alongside. BARRY GAUKEL/Keys Weekly

Mayor John Bartus and the entire Marathon City Council were on hand, as well as Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron and members of the Fishermen’s Community Hospital Council. Speakers emphasized the success of not only the hospital’s support for the community, but also the community’s commitment to working alongside Baptist Health South Florida.

Auto Draft - A group of people standing in front of a crowd - Ceremony
Supporters gather under the big tent to mark the occasion of the groundbreaking of Fishermen’s Community Hospital.

The local philanthropic council raised $12.5 million in donations, and Monroe County created a special taxing district that collects .05 mills from homeowners between MM 40 and 65. At the time the tax was passed, officials said the goal was to raise $15 million to pay for indigent health care.

“The Middle Keys now has a premiere hospital because of Baptist,” said Coldiron. “The care has been seamless and we can say that we have excellent medical care in the Lower Keys, Upper Keys and Middle Keys. It’s a day to celebrate.”

Leonard said the council and foundation are currently considering the construction of a medical arts building, similar to the Tassell Medical Arts Building next to Mariner’s Hospital in Tavernier. If the project gets the go-ahead, fundraising would begin anew to build medical office space to attract and retain new doctors, as well as the creation of a wellness center.

Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.