Economy pushes hospital to extension

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By Jenna McKenna

Tri-County Hospital CEO Frank Schupp addressed Chiefland Rotary last week with an update on the status of the hospital. He cut to the chase with his opening statement:

“With the economy the way it is, it’s a tough time to try to raise $54 million.”

Schupp then emphasized that the project is “still the priority for Enterprise Florida,” the public-private partnership for economic development that helping the project search for funding.

Schupp said that two weeks ago he was called to Orlando to make a presentation on the project’s finances to members of the enterprise group.

“I think it went well,” he said.

“I was supposed to be there an hour; I was there three hours, their Washington D.C. attorney was on the phone.”

Schupp said the group was still trying to discover how economic stimulus funds would be distributed, and noted that the hospital was one of three major projects being considered in the state, along with one in West Palm Beach and one in Pensacola.

“This is the only rural project, though, and it is the one that will generate the most jobs,” he said.

Schupp said he had been working on fundraising himself, with the help of some locals. Rotarian Stoney Smith, he said, had been particularly helpful in sharing his contacts. Schupp said with the economy bringing time pressures, he also reached out to legislators to try to buy time for the project.

“Before the legislative session, I talked with Sen. Charlie Dean and told him we needed help,” he said.

“I told him we have about $1.7 million into the project already, and we already have the land.”

Schupp said he asked Dean to introduce a bill that would give the hospital project a 12-month extension to meet its funding goals; he said Dean told him he would work to get a 36-month extension. A bill introduced in the House passed without opposition, Schupp said, but was held up in the Senate by “hostiles from outside the area who said they feared other hospitals would piggyback on the bill.”

Schupp said a revised version passed through the Senate the week before and was expected to pass the House that day, and would then go to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature.