LEESBURG — After years of intense litigation surrounding the Lee County Medical Center and no visible progress, speculation and rumors have started to circulate about the hospital.
However, Lee County Commission Chairman Billy Mathis and Chamber of Commerce Director/Lee County Development Authority Director Winston Oxford both said that the county is very close to finalizing a deal with a hospital operator.
“There’s some gaps in services that we have to have in order for our hospital to be a full-service hospital,” Oxford said. “We’re going to have to contract with an existing hospital system that can furnish that to us.”
Mathis said the county has been negotiating with several different potential hospital systems, which he is not able to name due to non-disclosure agreements. Those negotiations, Mathis said, have the county close to finalizing a deal with one of the potential operators.
“We’re very close to inking a deal, and as soon as that’s done, everything else will fall right in to place,” Mathis said. “We’ll do the bond financing, and then we’ll start construction.”
Oxford said negotiations and talks are ongoing.
“We had a meeting last week with our hospital folks, and they think they’ll have some of the sticking points, the particulars, worked out by the end of July,” he said. “Then the rest of the contract lawyers have got to put pen to paper and come up with something that everybody will sign. I’m told and encouraged that that’s going to happen pretty quick.”
Both Mathis and Oxford said they were hopeful that the county would be able to have a groundbreaking at some point between now and the end of the year.
However, Oxford acknowledged that as recently as April and May he thought they would be able to have a groundbreaking as soon as July or August, because, he said, he thought there was a “verbal agreement” in place. The negotiations were held up, he said, due to internal changes within that hospital system.
Still, both Oxford and Mathis remained positive about the possibility of a groundbreaking before the end of the year.
“We don’t have a date set, but obviously when those things we talked about happen, it’s going to be pretty quickly thereafter,” Mathis said.
Despite the slow progress, Oxford said the county still plans for the hospital to be a 60-bed facility with 50 beds for medical/surgical, 10 beds for an intensive care unit, as well as an emergency center. However, he did acknowledge that the operator will be given the chance to redesign the interior of the hospital if that group decides there is a need to.
“Once we strike a deal with the operator, we will allow the operator to have input into a redesign of the interior of the hospital,” Oxford said. “The square-footage of of the hospital, I’m 99.9 percent sure, will not change. It will still be the same square footage (124,000 square feet), but the interior design might change some to suit (the operator) better.”