Hospital on Brink of Transformation, Negotiations Start With BH3

A rendering of a new patient room, all of which will be private. (Courtesy Boca Raton Regional Hospital)

Boca Raton Regional Hospital is entering its most important year since the hospital’s founding in 1967.

By the end of 2019, Boca Regional will have started work on a $500 million-plus expansion, approved a partnership that will make Baptist Health of South Florida the parent corporation and hired a new CEO. Transformative doesn’t begin to describe it.

Three weeks ago, the hospital announced what CEO Jerry Fedele called the “hard launch” of the quarter-billion capital campaign that will support the building program. Boca Regional already has raised nearly half that amount— $115 million—from large donors. During an interview last Friday, Fedele said “several large gifts” are in the works, but the focus from here will be more “broad based” and seek to find new donors and previous contributors who might give more. A hospital spokesman said the campaign would run for “no more than 24 months.”

Work will start first in March on the parking garage, which will have nearly 1,000 spaces and replace the outdated surface lot. The next step, which Fedele should begin in late spring or early summer of next year, will be the new patient tower. The current tower will be gutted and renovated. There will be more operating rooms. Another project is a new power plant.

A proposed new inpatient tower. Photo courtesy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation.

Boca Regional also will get bigger. The hospital is licensed for 400 beds, though a spokeswoman said it operates at 365. After the construction, the hospital will have between 420 and 450 beds. Fedele estimated that the construction program would take five to six years to complete from the March start date on the garage.

Meanwhile, Boca Regional remains on track to approve by June 30 its deal with Baptist Health. Two weeks ago, the hospital held a public meeting to address questions about the merger. Longtime donors Christine Lynn and Dick Schmidt joined Fedele in briefing residents and taking questions.

On social media, some residents had expressed concern about the hospital’s future under Baptist. But Fedele said community support has been “better than I expected.” One resident, Fedele noted, called the meeting “anticlimactic,” because Boca Regional has been open about the partnership since going public in July 2017. Several weeks ago, an advisory committee of physicians got the same presentation.

At first, Fedele recalled, public reaction to the search for a partner presumed “that there must be something wrong. But we’ve always said that we were approaching this from a position of strength. I give a lot of credit to the board” for delivering a consistent message.

During conversations with potential donors, Fedele said, “We bring it up,” referring to Baptist. Some ask “if we still need their money.” Fedele told me earlier that Baptist will help with the capital campaign, but he and board members have stressed that donations to Boca Regional would stay with Boca Regional.

The process to choose Fedele’s successor also continues. A search committee has identified what Fedele called “a number of candidates.” Interviews will begin soon. Fedele predicted that the decision could come in April or May, which would give Fedele time to work with the new CEO before he leaves in August. Fedele had planned to retire last August—after 10 years—but the board asked him to oversee approval of the partnership.

Baptist Health has a representative on the search committee, whose members want to find the candidate best equipped to lead Boca Regional into a new era. In six years, it will be a transformed hospital that supporters hope will retain the community spirit that created it.

The Last Straw (again)

(Photo by Meghan Rodgers)

Just in time, the Delray Beach City Commission almost certainly will cast a second, final vote at tonight’s meeting in favor of banning plastic straws.

The commission passed the ordinance last month on first reading. A staff memo stresses the need for the city to act before the Legislature’s March-May session.

Indeed, new bills in the House and Senate would prevent local governments from enacting such bans. The House sponsor represents a rural district northwest of Orlando. The Senate sponsor represents a district south of Jacksonville. Both likely will claim that such bans hurt business. The plastic straw industry is the latest to seek relief from Tallahassee.

Actually, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce supports the ban. In a letter, CEO Jeb Conrad said the chamber supports Delray Beach “in connection with initiatives that encourage sustainability and environmental stewardship that contributes to a progressive and environmentally friendly business environment.” In addition, the chamber “recognizes that quality of place, including environmental sustainability, is a positive message to send to residents, visitors and businesses.”

The ordinance would apply only to restaurants. There would be exceptions for disabled people and for hospitals. For the first 18 months, restaurants could give plastic straws only to patrons who request them. The full ban would take effect after that.

Though plastic straws cost one cent compared to three cents for paper straws, lowered demand for straws could mean lower costs. To shift public sentiment, the city will conduct a Skip The Straw campaign. Notably, the ordinance also would apply to bio-plastic straws, which decompose in landfills but not in water.

And in case you wonder about the official definition of a plastic straw, House Bill 603 and Senate Bill 588 provide one. Here is it:

“Single-use plastic straw means a single-use, disposable straw made predominantly of plastic derived from petroleum or a biologically based polymer, such as corn or other plant sources, which is used to transfer a beverage from a container to the mouth of the person drinking the beverage. The term does not include a straw made from non-plastic materials, including, but not limited to, paper, wood, or bamboo.”

BH3 negotiations start

(Rendering by BH3)

I reported last week on the decision by the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency to negotiate with BH3 LLC on a contract to purchase nine acres of CRA-owned land on West Atlantic Avenue.

Those negotiations began Monday. CRA Attorney D.J. Doody, Executive Director Jeff Costello and other staffers represent Delray Beach. Attorney Neil Schiller, who represents BH3, told me Monday that the developer “formally rescinded its request” for $13.6 million in subsides from the CRA.

BH3 and the CRA have 60 days from last Tuesday to negotiate a contract. Costello told me Friday that he hopes to provide an update at next Tuesday’s CRA meeting.

More regulations

Almost every meeting of the Delray Beach City Commission includes an update of the city’s Land Development Regulations. Three weeks ago, it was a change to allow automated parking garages downtown. Tonight, it’s a change related to parking requirements.

Two years ago, Development Services Director Tim Stillings showed me the binder that includes all the regulations. It’s about four inches think. I asked Stillings last week how the rewrite is progressing. Surely it must be nearly complete.

His response: “Only scratching the surface.”

The Wildflower stall

Wildflower Park (Randy Schultz)

Boca Raton City Council members are impatient about the pace of progress on the Wildflower property and Silver Palm Park.

At the last meeting, Andrea O’Rourke asked for discussion on the consent agenda item that gave consultant EDSA $483,000 for the next phase of development. On the proposed schedule, O’Rourke noted, 20 months could pass before work begins. After regularly praising EDSA, O’Rourke now says the consultant “has not worked quickly.” Mayor Scott Singer asked City Manager Leif Ahnell, “How do we get to done?”

Ahnell explained that much remains outside the city’s control. Most important, the work requires federal and state permits because the properties are on the Intracoastal Waterway. Ahnell did point out that the schedule assumed 25 weeks for staff review, which he could try to shorten, and that 20 months is the slowest-case estimate.

Singer and O’Rourke asked, in essence, if the city could speed things up by threatening EDSA. Ahnell responded diplomatically that backing up such a threat could mean switching consultants, a move that would delay the project far longer.

As previously, I will point out that Singer broke with the original plan for a restaurant on the Wildflower and that O’Rourke used the November 2016 anti-restaurant ordinance as a campaign issue in March 2017. A stylish, revenue-generating restaurant with public access to the Intracoastal could be open now. Instead, the site will stay vacant much longer and the council still seems unsure of what the public will get.

Haynie hearing

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie had what her attorney called an “uneventful” court hearing on Jan. 15.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley did not set a trial date. Bruce Zimet, who is representing Haynie on the seven public corruption charges, said Kelley likely will set one at a scheduled April 15 hearing.

Zimet, though, doesn’t expect the trial to start until “the fall. My best guess is October.” Zimet and Brian Fernandes, the lead prosecutor, have schedule conflicts. Among other things, Fernandes will try the case against former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja in the killing of Corey Jones, who worked for the Delray Beach Housing Authority. That trial starts on Feb. 23.

Of Haynie, Zimet said, “She’s doing well, under the circumstances.”

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