Visalia hospital hopeful voters can back measure to build new acute care facility

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- The largest hospital in Tulare County will be demolishing a small, empty building tomorrow, in order to make room for a much larger, earthquake compliant facility in the future.

The story starts in January of 1994, when the Northridge earthquake killed dozens, and damaged homes, schools, and more than a handful of hospitals.

Once the dust settled, new legislation was passed requiring acute care hospitals to be seismically compliant by 2030.

Kaweah Delta's Mineral King Wing houses more than half of the hospital's acute care beds and a pharmacy. But it's not earthquake compliant, and hospital officials say it can't be retrofitted.

They're not tearing it down but will clear some space behind it.

"We will be leveling that building to develop some temporary parking for our physicians, but ultimately the new hospital as we build it over the next 14 years will cover that space and stretch all the way from Locust to West," said Kaweah Delta Chief Financial Officer Gary Herbst.

But to be built, it must be paid for.

The hospital says they'll put up a little more than $200 million.

But they're asking voters for the remaining $327 million in the form of general obligation bonds over a 30-year period.

"It really is essential to keeping an acute care hospital of this sophistication, this quality, this reputation, in our community, because past 2030 we can no longer use it, so we would essentially not have a hospital," Herbst said.

If Measure H passes, Herbst says property owners in the Kaweah Delta Healthcare District can expect to pay an average of $48 for every $100,000 of their property's assessed value (each year).

Voters won't decide until next month, but already Measure H signs are popping up. A recent newspaper editorial called it a tax burden that should be paid by the hospital. Another encourages voters to say yes to the measure, to keep good businesses, jobs, and doctors in the South Valley and to allow the hospital to continue caring for patients in a variety of ways.

"So we as stewards of this hospital, we don't feel we have a choice," said Herbst. "We have to do this for the community. They're depending on us."

Measure H ballots will be mailed out to registered voters in the Kaweah Delta District in April.

They must be mailed back or dropped off at a polling place by May 3.
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