Community News

ECHCA ‘public hearing’ a mere formality

News Staff Writer

There was no public presence at the December 30 public hearing held by Escambia County Healthcare Authority (ECHCA) officials to discuss construction and financing for the new urgent care facility that will be built near Interstate 65.
Billed as an opportunity for local residents to ask questions and express any concerns they might have over the location of the new facility, the meeting — which lasted seven minutes — was actually little more than a formality required by the Internal Revenue Service under the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“We’re here today to take any public comments regarding the financing associated with the urgent care we plan to build on the property that was swapped with the city,” ECHCA CEO Chris Griffin explained, pointing out that the loan would be made to Escambia County Alabama Community Hospitals, Inc., a non-profit corporation of which ECHCA is the sole member.
According to a legal advertisement published by the healthcare authority, “the public hearing will provide an opportunity for persons with different views on the proposed issuance of the Note and the location and nature of the Facility to express their views, both orally and in writing.”
Other than Atmore News, only Griffin, CFO Steve Fisher and Attorney Broox Garrett, Atmore Community Hospital Director of Operations Brad Lowery and Chris Walker of United Bank, which is providing the $3.5 million funding for the project, were present for the meeting. No mention was made as to whether any written comments had been received.
“It’s a process,” Griffin added. “We have to have this session, then report back to the mayor of Atmore and the county commission, share any comments with them, then they sign off on it. It almost makes it seem like there’s more to it than there really is.”
The loan, which Walker said is actually a low-interest line of credit, will be made from funds provided by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Direct Loan Program. The USDA funds are to pay for construction, furnishing and equipping of the 5,730 sq. ft., emergency medical center, which will be built on a 10-acre parcel of Rivercane land that was traded to the authority for the eight-plus-acre site surrounding the current hospital.
Griffin said the facility will be more than the standard urgent care center, that it will be a “walk-in, primary care clinic that will have lab and radiology services on premises.”
Construction of the urgent care center is expected to start during the year’s first quarter (January, February, March). It is expected to take most of the year.