When 18 shovels broke ground Wednesday for a new downtown hospital at the southwest corner of Van Buren and Main streets, some doubts were finally buried.
Mayor Tom Henry referred to those concerns in remarks at Lutheran Health Network's early afternoon ceremony for the new, $120 million Lutheran Downtown Hospital.
“Although there were some doubters in this community about whether they would follow through, they have,” he said.
Henry said afterward he wasn't among those doubters, who have cited parent company Community Health Systems' long-term debt of $13.4 billion as of March 31 and $5 billion in losses since 2016 as reasons for skepticism.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, obviously, because of their financial picture and the (employee) turnover and the angst in the community,” he said. “But the fact that we're here today says volumes about them.”
Mark Medley, Lutheran network's CEO, encouraged the more than 250 gathered to leave the past behind.
“Welcome to the future of health care in downtown Fort Wayne,” he said. “It doesn't look like much now, but where you are sitting right now – and standing – we are going to be saving lives.”
The 188,000-square-foot hospital is expected to be completed in late 2021 and open for patients in early 2022. The five-story building will have 60 in-patient beds with room to grow to 100 through future expansion.
Weigand Construction is doing pre-construction services, including working with designers, Lutheran network's spokesman Geoff Thomas said in an email. A general contractor will be named when final construction documents are issued this fall.
Plans call for the hospital to offer emergency, surgical and intensive care. Services will include cardiac catheterization and advanced imaging.
Jake Golich, St. Joe's CEO, started in his position just last week.
“It's a little overwhelming, but in a positive way,” he said in an interview. “A lot of the hard work has already been done.”
Golich's message to the crowd – which included dozens of St. Joe employees – echoed his new boss's words.
“We are very proud of St. Joseph and its legacy, but today is about the future,” he said. “I invite all of you to look forward.”
But even the biggest St. Joe boosters have struggled at times to believe the groundbreaking would occur.
Dr. Andre Stovall, St. Joe's chief of staff, after the ceremony described himself as an optimist.
“I'm not a financial guy, so I have no idea how that stuff works,” he said. “People would ask me, 'Are they really going to do it?' I'd say, 'I think so. They're pretty serious about it.'”
Jerry Henry, chairman of St. Joe's advisory board of trustees, told The Journal Gazette that at one time he put the odds of the new hospital being built at 50-50.
“Let's say 60-40,” he said, correcting himself. “I am so proud of where we are today. I never gave up.”
He believes the biggest challenge Lutheran officials face will be coordinating the transition of equipment, patients and staff from the St. Joe building to the new hospital.
“That will be like Hannibal crossing the Alps,” he said. “It's a big project.”
Tom Henry, who has a front-row seat to the city permitting process, said the hospital construction project has passed the required hurdles.
“I think the only challenges they might experience,” he said, “are just in their own organization.”
Golich didn't reveal any personal concerns. He told the crowd that bulldozers and cranes will soon be on site.
“We're here,” he said, “to provide high-quality health care for every patient, every time at every location.”