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Hospital CEO: It's now or never

Posted: November 15, 2008 9:26 p.m.
Updated: November 16, 2008 4:59 a.m.
A years-long battle to expand Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital goes before the Santa Clarita City Council this week, and the hospital CEO says this is the last round.

"A decision needs to be made, and it needs to be made in a positive direction," hospital CEO Roger Seaver said in response to questions during a Signal editorial board meeting.

"If we start over today, all bets are off," he said Thursday. "I'm not sure anything can be built."

The City Council set a meeting Wednesday to consider a revised master plan for expanding the Santa Clarita Valley's only remaining hospital.

It's been 4 1/2 years since plans for expansion first went to the city for approval.

The master plan, which is the only item on Wednesday's agenda, calls for the construction of a 120-bed inpatient building, three medical office buildings, a central plant and four parking structures totaling 2,231 spaces.

The hospital would build helipads on the rooftops of both parking structures and on the inpatient building.

Hospital officials estimate the cost of the project at $300 million.

If the council approves the plan Wednesday, Seaver said one parking structure, one medical office building and the new inpatient tower would be complete in about six years.

David Gauny, founder of the citizens' group Smart Growth SCV, has been a leader in opposing the hospital expansion.

"As written, there is no commitment to either an inpatient building or Centers of Excellence," he said of the proposed master plan and accompanying development agreement.

Smart Growth SCV, which recently claimed 3,500 members, would like to see the inpatient building reduced by one floor to four stories, Gauny said.

As proposed, the five-story inpatient building can accommodate up to 120 beds, hospital officials said.

"Centers of Excellence" are preferred sites for specific types of medical care. Hospitals earn "Centers of Excellence" status by attracting doctors who specialize in a particular field, providing technology to support their expertise and attracting high volumes of patients who need treatment in the specialized field.

Professional societies set the standards for national accreditation for Centers of Excellence in various fields.

As introduced in 2003, the hospital master plan was intended to provide a 25-year blueprint for expansion of the campus with the goal of serving about half the valley's anticipated population of 475,000, Seaver said.

The master plan now projects a 15-year growth plan for the campus. Over the course of 4 1/2 years of reviews, hospital officials scaled back the density of the project. They reduced the height of the proposed inpatient tower to 85 feet, increased building setbacks, made improvements to help traffic flow on the streets near the hospital and enhanced landscaping plans.

"I'm absolutely certain that the neighbors made a huge impact on what the project is today," hospital spokeswoman Andie Bogdan said. "Their influence has been incredible and it's really our project now because of that."

But the cost of those delays has been substantial, Seaver said. Securing bonds to expand may be difficult in the current financial climate, he said. A failure to move ahead now could mean scuttling all expansion plans.

The City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday. City Hall is located at 23920 Valencia Blvd. in Valencia.


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