By Tia Lynn Ivey
A community debate is brewing over the fate of the former Morgan Memorial Hospital building in Madison. Morgan Medical Center leaders are hoping to sell the old hospital building to a drug rehabilitation center called Flashpoint Recovery.
The prospect has Madison City Council leaders and some members of the public envisioning the worst case scenario of an out-patient methadone clinic, fearing it would attract an influx of unsupervised drug addicts released back into the community. But this is not the case, says hospital officials and Flashpoint Recovery founder Mitch Baumann.
“It would look like a five-star resort from the outside and the inside,” said Baumann to the Madison Mayor and City Council on Friday morning during a presentation.
According to Baumann, this drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility would be a “high-end, insurance-based” in-patient center, meaning the cost to secure a spot is expensive and patients admitted cannot leave the premises during their 45-60 day treatment stays. The price tag for patients would be between $35,000 to $45,000 per month.
But for the deal to move forward, The Morgan Medical Center Authority needs the City of Madison to issue a letter certifying that the intended use of a drug rehabilitation center would be permissible under the current zoning and “non-conforming” use that the former hospital maintained to conduct operations.
But the city council was not comfortable issuing such a letter until city staff and the city’s lawyer, Jim Carter, could do more research. The council tabled the request, but promised to review the options and alert the public to when the issue will be on their agenda again.
Hospital leaders warned that the timetable for the deal is “tight” and requested an answer by the end of next of week. The City Council made no promise to decide on the letter, but was open to city staff meeting with hospital staff to try to sort out the situation.
Carter noted that while Flashpoint Recovery is a licensed “hospital,” state law sets forth different requirements for drug rehabilitation centers, but he wasn’t sure what Flashpoint Recovery is entitled to legally from the city council as of yet.
“I think there is a question whether or not this is going to be a legitimate non-conforming use that will be allowed to be continued,” cautioned Carter at the meeting. “State law differentiates between hospitals and drug and alcohol rehabilitations centers, which require a different process of approval and public hearings…However, what the public says, whether they agree or disagree, will not be determinative of whether or not this is a non-conforming use, that will be a matter of law. This is an administrative decision if they are entitled to it there is nothing that can be done about it.”
The council unanimously voted to table the request from the Morgan Medical Center Hospital Authority for a letter of clarification assuring Flashpoint Recovery would be able to operate as a drug rehabilitation center out of the old hospital building should they purchase the property.
“We need to take some time on this and get some clarity,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman.
Hospital leaders vouched for the project, claiming the Flashpoint Recovery would be a beneficial addition to the entire community, investing millions to revamp the old hospital building, creating 60 new jobs, adding significant new tax revenue for the city, as well as yielding significant economic impact from new employees and visiting families utilizing restaurants, shops, and hotels.
“If we did not believe our current prospective purchaser would be a welcomed addition to Madison, we would not engage with this purchaser and we would not be here today,” said Ralph Castillo, CEO of Morgan Medical Center at Friday’s Madison City Council meeting.
Castillo condemned the rumors circulating on Facebook and throughout the community mischaracterizing the project.
“When someone hears the term ‘drug rehabilitation,’ it may be natural to immediately think about the worst-case scenario, such as a methadone clinic with drug addicts roaming the streets. We understand that there are rumors and innuendos in the street being whispered to council members that this is what’s being proposed,” said Castillo, who called such allegations lies against which the hospital authority is considering legal action. “While methadone clinics may exist, and frankly are currently a permitted use under Madison’s zoning ordinance, what we are proposing is the polar opposite of that.”
Castillo described Flashpoint Recovery as a luxurious facility, that would feature tennis courts, pools, yoga classes, martial arts classes, custom landscaping, and above all, exclusivity.
“Clientele tend to be seeking strict anonymity,” said Castillo. “Flashpoint does not provide out-patient services. There will not be a continuous stream of patient-traffic in and out of that building. You are a resident of the hospital until your treatment is complete.”
According to Castillo, Flashpoint intents to spend $3 million dollars on renovating the old Morgan Memorial Hospital building, located at 1077 S. Main St., in Madison. Castillo estimated that once up and running, the project would add $5 million to Madison’s tax base.
City Council members were impressed with the hospital authority and Flashpoint Recovery’s presentation, but expressed lingering fears of unintended consequences down the road.
Councilwoman Chris Hodges worried that if the city granted a continuation of the nonconforming use to allow for a drug rehabilitation center, then if the Flashpoint Recovery decided to sell to a “less responsible” drug rehabilitation center in the future, the city would be powerless to stop it.
“If you sell, what are the unintended consequences, if you sell to somebody who is not as responsible as you are?” asked Hodges.
Baumann reassured the council that he had no interest in selling to a methadone clinic or other “unfavorable” facilities and volunteered to accept the council barring him from doing so if that would ease their concerns. Baumann said he would be fine with the council barring him from selling the property in the future to an out-patient rehab facility or a facility that provides methadone services.
“If you need the protection, I have no problem with that,” said Baumann. “I know it’s a touchy subject and everyone has to be careful and make the right decision, but I can only assure you that this is nothing but a benefit for the community.”
Castillo echoed Baumann’s assurances, reminding the council that the community was wary of a new hospital being built when it was first proposed. “But we stand here today successful and ready to serve the community and we are here when you need us the most,” said Castillo, who urged the council to view this project as the next step to adding top-of-line health services in Morgan County. “Our goal is to provide first-class medical care here in Madison for our citizens.”