RHINELANDER – Marshfield Clinic officials are weighing their options after the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee Wednesday, June 14 denied their request for a conditional use permit (CUP) to build a 12-bed hospital adjacent to their Minocqua Clinic.
Voting to deny the permit were supervisors Jack Sorensen, Scott Holewinski and Mike Timmons. Supervisors Billy Fried and Dave Hintz voted against the motion.
Marshfield Clinic Regional Medical Director Dr. William Melms says the vote was disappointing, but they have options: “At this point we have to now regroup and decide what the next steps are,” he said. “There is an appeals process that we will likely be going down. Beyond that, we are going to have to see. We will have some discussion with senior leadership in our organization and decide what’s next.”
Marshfield Clinic has 30 days from the official notice of permit denial in which to appeal the decision to the Oneida County Board of Adjustment. A denial there could mean Marshfield Clinic might ask the circuit court to make a ruling on the CUP application. Melms would not elaborate on Sorensen’s comment that Marshfield Clinic may be looking at property in Arbor Vitae in adjacent Vilas County. “At this point I cannot comment on the thought of different projects,” Melms said. “We would like to build our hospital in Minocqua attached to our clinic. That’s best for our staff, best for our patients. But we will look at other options as well. “We will be building a hospital in the Northwoods.”
Ascension/Howard Young Medical Center president Sandy Anderson said the committee majority saw that the issue was not about competition, but rather “about duplication of services...about sustainability” of critical medical services that Howard Young provides. Ascension still wants to work with Marshfield Clinic despite Ascension’s opposition to Marshfield Clinic’s proposed hospital, she added. “We would like to continue to work with our Marshfield Clinic partners, and we invite them to participate with us in going forward,” she said. Marshfield Clinic provides nearly all the physicians who practice at Howard Young. Howard Young is slated for major building renovations this coming year. With the exception of determining the number of replacement beds, those plans would be unaffected by a second hospital, she said. “We will continue with our renovation plans and our replacement plans,” she said of their rehabilitation services and emergency department.
Tthe committee took 90 minutes to plow through the nine standards that the county requires to be met before a conditional use permit is issued. But it was the first one that established the outcome, as committee chairman Holewinski, Sorensen and Timmons all said the application failed to meet it. Holewinski said Marshfield Clinic did not provide “sufficient evidence” to prove that their hospital “will not be a detrimental to or endanger the pubic health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare” of the community as that first standard outlines. “Splitting the patients (between the two hospitals) would not be good, he said. “There will be a decline in services if we approve it.” “I don’t see the benefit of spending $35 million on a facility literally adjacent to an existing facility that has everything that’s needed for the community,” Sorensen said. (Clinic officials have said the hospital would cost $30-35 million.) But Hintz said a second hospital would “help the community by increasing competition.” It would bring in dozens of new jobs and inject $30 million of development into the county, he said. “We are refusing a legitimate company from expanding.” Both he and Fried said the CUP application met the first standard. Timmons said it would be difficult for two hospitals to recruit sufficient staff to serve the community, while bustling with visitors and second homeowners in the summer, dwindles to far fewer numbers in the colder months. No matter what is decided that morning, Fried said, the way healthcare is provided is changing. He pointed out the satellite medical facilities, such as for dialysis treatment, which are popping up. That somewhat echoes what Marshfield Clinic officials have said, that smaller hospitals are the wave of the future, reflecting shorter hospital stays. Fried used a different argument as he tried to sway the majority. What if Marshfield Clinic decides to “pull back” from Minocqua if it doesn’t get the CUP? “How will that affect healthcare” of the Minocqua community? he asked.
The committee for the most part agreed that the CUP application met the other eight standards, albeit with “conditions.” In some instances, members were at a loss as to what conditions they could require, such as for storm water runoff concerns. The committee’s final vote to deny was identical to the one they made 15 months ago when Marshfield Clinic applied for a CUP to build an skilled nursing facility. The board of adjustment upheld the committee’s ruling. Marshfield Clinic then abandoned efforts to build that facility. The committee has held several meetings on the CUP application, which was filed last January. The Minocqua Town Board supports it.