Chesterton Tribune

Porter Hospital on track to make 2012 debut, CEO reports

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Porter Health systems has thus far delivered on the promises it made in 2007, when it announced plans to build their new hospital on the corner of Hwy 6 and State Road 49, the Porter County Council was told Tuesday.

Jonathan Nalli, CEO of Porter gave a progress report to the council at the council’s monthly meeting held at the Memorial Opera house in Valparaiso.

Nalli said building the hospital has put northwest Indiana on par with the most up to date medical facilities in the nation and has paid dividends to the local economy by stimulating job growth and bringing in patients from outside the county seeking modern healthcare.

“The construction project has remained on track,” said Nalli. “To this date, we are near completion with the exterior of the building. We are in the process of putting the final 30 day touches.” From there they will continue to work on the interior of the building and the original timetable of completing the hospital sometime between September and November of next year is a realistic goal, according to Nalli.

Original estimates in the size of the workforce needed have been accurate, he said. “The 600 construction jobs we estimated would be created during the duration of that project, we have remained compliant with that.” Nalli said.

“I think you can see when you talk to a number of the folks in the trades, they are happily working, they have steady work, and we continue to provide them with opportunities to grow and expand.” With the addition of a 60,000 square foot office building to the plans, those workers will have even more work to do. Porter Health has used the same general contractors, architects, and trades throughout the process, and all are from northwest Indiana, Nalli said.

“The additional investments that Porter Health systems has made to the community have led to additional market share increases within Porter county, and a reduction of out migration of Porter county residents seeking healthcare outside the county.” Nalli said.

“We’ve got more people coming into Porter county for healthcare . . . not only from northwest Indiana, but we have folks coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado to receive healthcare services that specialize here such as robotics, as well as minimally invasive hip surgery. Two areas that we invested in heavily in 2008 that continue to pay dividends and bring people into the county.”

Building the new facility has brought the need to recruit new physicians to practice there, and 17 have been added. 12 of which have relocated to Porter County.

Bringing in a new physician can be a large investment, but one that will reward the local economy, he said. “The investment in a new physician is roughly 150 to 200 thousand dollars to get them up and running and bring them to the area and help them get started.” Nalli said. “The downstream effect of a new physician at that income level means that they are going to hire between .5 and 1.5 or two FTE’s (full-time employees) additional in their office at roughly eight to eighteen dollars an hour.”

Having these new health care employees be residents of Porter County was a sticking point for Councilman Jim Biggs. “(I hope) you’re doing all you can do to recruit residents of this county for positions that come over for employment, that this town’s residents take priority.” Biggs said. “Historically I think especially the people who have lived in Porter County for some time now are very aware of the working relationship the hospital has with the city of Valparaiso and both have benefited greatly by that. As a resident of Chesterton, I hope that same relationship is offered to the town of Chesterton.”

Council President Dan Whitten voiced his satisfaction with the manner in which Porter Health has conducted themselves. “I really think you’ve done a great job. I did vote for the tax abatement, and although I’m not a big tax abatement proponent, that was a structured tax abatement that’s brought money into the county in relatively short form. It brought immediate jobs to construction, and quite frankly there were a lot of guys sitting on the bench watching the parade go by desperate for work. I saw this as an investment into their livelihood. On top of that we have not one, but two county income taxes in this county. Everybody that is put to work is paying into that. So this was an investment on my part.”

A motion to make the first annual extension of the tax abatement passed unanimously with all seven council members in attendance.

E911 gets Band-Aid

In other business the council unanimously approved funding to pay to the salaries of four new full-time and four new part-time dispatchers for E911 services, but the new funding will only last to the end of the year. After that the council’s Rainy Day fund will be tapped, which will cover the cost through 2013, but will create a deficit.

“In January, from that point forward, we will be running in the red roughly a million dollars.” said Councilman Biggs. “Thanks to the Rainy Day fund we are fine until the end of 2013. At that point we will either have to re-appropriate moneys from a different area of county government, or hopefully before that time find a reasonable solution as to what is going to fund 911 in the long term county wide.”

Who would ultimately be responsible for covering the dispatcher’s wages is a problem that will not go away without a concerted effort and cooperation from government officials and town leaders. “I spent the better part of two weeks looking at every single dollar that went into this program and what is very clear is that it is going to take an extreme effort on all of our parts to work together and try to understand where each one of us is coming from and solve this in a reasonable manner.” Biggs said. “And I want to make it clear right now, I’m not talking about the county government. This is a problem that if it’s going to be solved, all the municipalities are going to have to own it, and be part of the solution.”

Council president Whitten echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of finding a tangible long term solution to the problem. “We have to come up with a plan. We can’t be territorial. We can’t be at odds here. We have to get something. This is a big fish item that could break the bank. An option to cut all and not give valuable, needed services for protection for our constituency is not an option. We’re going to keep digging in the well until we hit water.”

Porter County Library Board

In other action the council voted seven to zero to appoint Gerrie Bowie to a fourth term on the Porter County Library Board of Trustees.

The council tabled the matter at last month’s meeting to give others a chance to apply for the position.



Posted 7/27/2011