On Wednesday, Fishermen’s Hospital will ask for space at Marathon airport

Baptist Hospital
Tomorrow, Baptist Health South Florida will ask the BOCC about leasing space to erect a modular hospital while Fishermen’s Community Hospital is rebuilt or renovated, expected to take two years.

The Monroe County Board of Commissioners approved Baptist Health South Florida’s request to erect a modular hospital at the west end of Marathon airport while Fishermen’s Community Hospital is rebuilt or renovated, expected to take two years. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

*Online story updated on Dec. 15 to reflect vote.

Baptist Health South Florida, the parent company of Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon, has yet to decide whether to completely rebuild or just renovate the badly damaged building in Marathon.

“We just don’t know yet,” said CEO Rick Freeburg.

What is needed is a temporary hospital, one built out of modular buildings not unlike the old Marathon City Hall, while the new building is completed. The modular hospital would be in place for two years, if not longer, and the mobile (tent) hospital on loan from the state of North Carolina would be sent back. On Wednesday, the Board of County Commissioners approved space for the modular hospital at the west end of the Marathon airport, a county property.

Monroe County Mayor David Rice said it’s an obvious choice. The only concern he has is over the length of the lease for Fishermen’s Hospital. Right now, it’s written as a four-year lease with the possibility of a one-year extension.

The lease was drafted by airport officials, including Assistant Director of Airports Thomas “T.J.” Henderson. It also needs the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.

“They will be looking at two things — the lease amount and the results of an air space study. The FAA has to be assured that the proposed construction won’t interfere with navigation in and around the airport,” Henderson said.

It’s reported Baptist wishes to secure a $1 a year lease on the property.

“This is about serving the community, not trying to make money because of the need for medical care in this community,” Henderson said. “Honestly, we don’t foresee a problem with either FAA requirement.”

On Tuesday, Freeberg said he doesn’t think the temporary hospital would be in place that long, more like two years.

“I think it will be a two-year period of rebuilding or renovating,” he said. He added that Baptist officials are still in the “design” phase of which modular configuration to order from the manufacturer. He said the buildings should be available 60 days after the decision is made, and installed within 30 days.

With the modular hospital would come more advanced medical care than what’s currently available in Marathon.

“We would have increased imaging capabilities, a better lab, and be able to treat more things than we can right now,” Freeberg said. “We might be able to do simple out-patient procedures like endoscopy or even appendectomies.”

Jay Hershoff, chairman of the board for Fishermen’s and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, said the medical care must be relocated while reconstruction or renovation of the old facility is underway. (“It’s not logical to treat people in a parking lot while there are dump trucks and demolition and construction happening.”) In his opinion, he said, the hospital should be knocked down and rebuilt.

“The new Fishermen’s Hospital needs to be right-sized and we need to have the community get behind supporting the new facility philanthropically,” he said.

It’s even more challenging to design a new facility in the face of the changing healthcare landscape in the United States. Hershoff estimates it costs about $1 million per bed to build a new hospital. Before it was damaged, Fishermen’s had 25 hospital beds.

In national news, the moves are even more dramatic. On Dec. 4, Aetna, one of the largest health insurers, and CVS, one of the biggest pharmacies, announced a merger valued at $69 billion. On Dec. 10, two major hospital systems — Ascension and Providence St. Joseph Health — also announced a plan to merge to become the largest hospital system with 191 hospitals in 27 states; a deal valued at $41 billion.

“Even smart people are having a hard time imagining what is going to happen six months from now,” Hershoff said.

Fishermen’s Community Hospital was purchased by Baptist Health South Florida on July 1; a mere 71 days later, Hurricane Irma struck. The hurricane changed the face of the Marathon airport, too. It became an “air bridge” for federal and state supplies, equipment and personnel. The west end became a staging area for visiting linemen to repair electric service to Keys residents.

While those uses are coming to an end, the airport will now house the temporary modular hospital. Also, if the state legislature approves the funds, a new Emergency Operations Center will be constructed there. The Monroe County Sheriff is currently designing a 7,000-square-foot gun range to be constructed at the airport. It also leases hangars to aviators and space to the City of Marathon for a wastewater treatment and land to the Disabled American Veterans club. The lease for the DAV will expire in June of 2020 when it will move to a month-to-month lease.

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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.