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Children's Hospital Expansion Gets Boost

Whatever financial worries Lee Memorial Health System faces, one thing seems certain: It is determined to build a $250 million expansion of The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

The health system’s elected board of directors Thursday authorized project planners to find architectural and construction firms to oversee design and construction of a six-story tower adjacent to HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers.

Such an approval, though only a modest step forward, sends a signal the new hospital will become reality in the not-too-distant future, health system officials said.

“It’s a very big deal because it makes crystal clear that the project has started,” said Dan Fink, chief administrative officer for The Children’s Hospital. “It’s no longer just in the hearts and minds of the administration. It’s now actually happening.”

The board’s approval authorizes only ad buys for these construction professionals, spending that likely will total about $6,000, said health system spokeswoman Mary Briggs.

Larger funding approvals likely won’t come until more detailed architectural plans are ready, Briggs said.

The board has approved the project in concept and voted more than a year ago to authorize a big fund raising push to help defray costs. Ultimately, the health system hopes to raise $125 million in private donations.

About $25 million of that is expected to come from the sale of naming rights for the building.

To date, health system fundraisers have raised about $22 million in cash and pledges and expect to soon receive another $19 million in commitments.

The 292,000-square-foot addition would increase the number of Children's Hospital-dedicated beds from 98 to about 150 and create a pediatric emergency department. Construction is expected to begin within the next two years.

The project has been a health system priority for years.

Medical staff have said The Children’s Hospital cannot keep up with demand for its extensive pediatric health services, a situation that has forced them to transfer children to the nearest comparable facilities in Miami and Tampa.

With adult beds also in short supply, the project would help free up space at HealthPark. The new pediatric emergency department also would ease crowding in HealthPark’s ER.

Even so, it is a big-ticket project coming at the same time the system is dealing with declining insurance reimbursements, looming Medicaid and Medicare cuts, and – as of this week – a potential $15 million negligence claim against it by the family of a 14-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.

That claim was approved by the Legislature this week and Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

State-approved Medicaid cuts last year prompted the health system to freeze salaries for its employees and suspend management bonuses this year.

“It is an ambitious project, but the reality is we have to do it,” said Richard Akin, chairman of health system’s board of directors. “We need the beds.”

Written by
Frank Gluck