LEESBURG — Like many other Lee County officials, Lee County chamber of Commerce/Development Authority Director Winston Oxford has become somewhat gun-shy.
In his office, in public, at the grocery store, in restaurants ... everywhere the affable Oxford goes, the question is the same: When are we going to get our hospital?
The ongoing saga of the proposed 60-bed, $120 million-plus hospital continues to weigh on local officials as they work tediously with hospital operator Eddie Alexander to find the right fit with a hospital system that will provide health care at the facility.
“I want to try and paint a picture of why it is taking so long,” Oxford said before Thursday’s annual Chamber Banquet. “I know the people in the community are getting impatient; I hear from them every day. But I’d like to remind everyone that it took 14 months for the hospital group just to agree on a proper memorandum of understanding before we even applied for a certificate of need.
“All of the legal talk with the lawyers is way over my head, but I’d just like to remind our citizens that (the delay in starting construction on the hospital) is not unusual. It takes time to work out these details.”
Oxford provided an update for attendees at the Lee Chamber banquet, telling his audience “it’s been an interesting ride over the seven years (of planning and going through requirements necessary for construction of the hospital) and quite an adventure for our elected officials for about the last five years.”
Oxford conceded that he’d hoped that the hospital would be “going vertical” a year ago, but he said he’s still confident construction will begin before the county’s certificate of need expires in June of next year.
“Our hospital is coming along just fine,” Oxford told the banquet audience. “I wish we could have been vertical with it a year ago; however, there’s something to be said for planning and getting a project right the first time.
“We have known from the very start that we would need a partner with a hospital system that could supply us certain services, including some management as well as some specialty independent doctors, which do not currently exist in our area. We established negotiations with one hospital system at a time, signing nondisclosure agreements, which pretty much prevented us from negotiating with multiple systems at once.”
The Lee Chamber director said the type of negotiations required made for a slower process ... and offered a distinct learning opportunity for county officials.
“A hospital is a very complicated entity to put together,” he said. “We do realize, however, that we have to go vertical with our hospital before next June, when our certificate of need would expire. So, right now and going forward, we are being extremely selective in our serious negotiations with the handful of hospital systems that have approached us to partner with us.
“I look forward to the day that we can announce this partner and, at that time ... construction can begin.”
Oxford also told banquet attendees that businessman Terry Ho is expected to expand by 18,000 square feet the Oakland Meadows Business Park manufacturing facility where his Yum Yum sauce is made and distributed. Oxford also said another manufacturer in the county is expected to expand soon, creating a need for 40 new jobs.