Clinic clears hurdle on path to new hospital
Plan commission approves two conditional use permits needed for construction
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — On Tuesday night the city plan commission approved two conditional use permits necessary for construction of Marshfield Clinic’s proposed hospital to move forward. The approval came despite protests from Ministry Health Care.
According to documents submitted by Marshfield Clinic to the city, the new hospital is planned to be over 600,000 square feet with 202 patient beds and eight floors. In addition, a planned parking garage is slated to have 750 parking stalls and will be four levels.
One of the conditional use permits relates to the construction of the new hospital itself as well as a central utility plant and the parking garage. The second conditional use permit would allow Marshfield Clinic to build an offsite parking lot, which would be used by construction workers while the new hospital is built and by clinic staff and patrons. The permits must be given final approval by the Marshfield Common Council at its Jan. 26 meeting.
Attorney Timothy Feeley, representing Ministry Health Care and Saint Joseph’s Hospital, spoke against approving the permits at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Our objection is based on public need, that we don’t believe the community can support the two hospitals,” Feeley said in an interview prior to the meeting. He said that despite the fact that Ministry has announced it will, over time, become a smaller-scale facility, that does not justify the construction of a new hospital.
“I think the issue still comes down to Ministry’s still going to have beds. The clinic is seeking to add 200 beds, and we’re (Saint Joseph’s Hospital) not even at full capacity right now, so we don’t see there being a community need. This community can’t support that many beds, certainly can’t support two hospitals given that the population is not growing,” Feeley said. He added that there will also be a “duplication of services” when both Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Marshfield Clinic’s new hospital are operating simultaneously.
Feeley also raised the question of where employees will be found to staff both hospitals.
“The hospital has already lost, voluntarily, a number of employees that have sought to relocate elsewhere simply because they don’t know what’s going to happen in the community. We suspect that that’s going to continue to occur over the next 2 ½ years that this project is being proposed to be constructed,” Feeley said.
Marshfield Clinic Executive Director Dr. Narayana Murali said the plan commission’s approval of the conditional use permits represented important progress for the community.
“This is a big win for the citizens of Marshfield and the surrounding areas,” Murali said. He added that if the council gives final approval to the permits, “It actually opens up the doors for employment. It actually creates a big economic win here, and it increases our commitment to Marshfield for the next 100 years.”
Murali said the plan commission’s approval of the permits was a “very big domino” in the process of building a new hospital.
The question of why Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care have been unable to work together in Marshfield has been one posed by many in the community. Murali said the two organizations have a fundamental difference in terms of strategy.
“For us, we believe that Marshfield is where the Marshfield Clinic should be, and we’ve spent a century here, but that’s not the strategic plan of Ministry/Ascension,” Murali said. “They want to move away from here, and as you heard from their attorney, they don’t think that there’s a future here. We believe very strongly that there’s a future here, so that’s essentially the difference.”
Dan Ramsey, chief operating officer of Marshfield Clinic Health System, said he felt that Marshfield Clinic’s new hospital will help keep jobs in Marshfield as Ministry plans to downsize its facility locally while expanding Ministry Saint Clare’s Hospital in Weston.
“It’s actually preserving jobs. Just, if you’re moving services and things to Weston, this will preserve jobs by retaining it in the community,” Ramsey said.
Ken Wood was the lone plan commission member to vote against approving the conditional use permit related to building the new hospital, parking garage, and central utility plant.
“I just don’t think we need two hospitals. People that have talked to me — and it hasn’t been a lot of people but a few people — have just said, ‘Why do we need another hospital when we already have one?’” Wood said.
The new hospital is planned to open in 2018 with work beginning early this year.