When the Southeast Tribal Health Organization built Wrangell’s new hospital, elected officials asked themselves a question: what to do with the old town-owned hospital? It’s not as easy as scrapping the installation. And at least one company has come forward with interest.
The former red-and-beige Bennett Street Community Hospital is now nearly empty, except for medical supplies on loan from Wrangell Hospice.
In mid-September, the borough administration received a proposal: Florida-Based Drug Rehab Center Seeks to “Acquire and Operate” Former Wrangell Medical Center as Drug Treatment Facility.
Casey Odell lived in Wrangell and worked for Alaska Island Community Services, which was acquired by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) in 2017. Odell now works with Regard Recovery, a chain of drug treatment centers looking to expand in Alaska. She told the assembly on November 9 that she had recently learned from friends and acquaintances of the vacant hospital.
“And really, that would be a great location for what Regard Recovery is offering from Alaska,” Odell told the gathering. “We are planning to create a recovery center for drug rehab programs, residences, partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IPO). “
Demand for statewide drug treatment has increased throughout the pandemic. At the end of last year, KTOO Public Media reported that nearly 150 people were on waiting lists for residential treatment for drug or alcohol use statewide.
“It could bring a new economy, new business, new jobs,” Odell continued. “And it would be really exciting, for me anyway, if Wrangell was interested in becoming a leader in substance recovery efforts in Alaska. I’m sure most of you in the room would attest to the fact that as an industry we are failing to meet the addiction treatment and recovery needs in Alaska.
In the months since SEARHC moved operations from the old facility to the newly constructed hospital just over a mile away, Wrangell’s assembly debated a number of ideas on what to do with the old hospital.
One was to demolish it, but it had to cost at least a million dollars.
The assembly also discussed its use to replace the community public security building, who has his own problems. The Public Safety Building houses the Wrangell Police Station, Volunteer Fire Department, DMV, Courthouse, and Jail.
This means that any discussion of the old hospital building is also tied to the ongoing efforts to repair or replace the public security building.
A cost estimate from Anchorage-based engineering firm AMC a year ago indicates that the renovation of the public safety building would cost around $ 15 million. Costs have since increased.
Assembly member Jim DeBord was particularly concerned at the November 9 meeting about funding for repairs to the public safety building.
“Before we spend an extra hundreds of thousands or half a million dollars on ‘What are we going to do’, we need to figure out where the money is going to come from, what our source of funding is,” DeBord said.
But interim borough manager Jeff Good stressed that waiting for clarity won’t reduce the bill.
“The longer we wait for a project, the more it’s going to keep getting worse – the building is going to get worse because there are major exterior shortcomings with this building,” Good said, “And it’s just going to continue to deteriorate over time. . ”
Good added that this ties into Wrangell’s deep need for a long-term capital improvement plan. Twenty years later, the community will know when air circulation systems or electrical wiring need to be replaced.
“If we maintain the exterior structure of the building, so maintain the roof, maintain the exterior cladding and replace it whenever it’s supposed to be replaced and you do that, I mean the life of the buildings is really indefinite. . Good explained, “Because if you do that, you hold the structure, you’re going to be good.” “
Director of Capital Facilities Amber Al-Haddad said while the assembly approached the project as a single goal, it doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the same time.
“There is a lot of this project that improves the finishes, the interior finishes, that could wait,” Al-Haddad said. “What is essential to do with this building now is fix the structure that is breaking down in a really big way. And then consider some of the life safety systems that can be replaced out there as well as the heating and air system. These are the essential parts of this building to keep it operational. “
Ultimately, the Wrangell The assembly asked the administration to investigate possible sources of funding for the public security building project, leaning towards a renovation of the current building, which is more affordable than new construction. He also asked the Borough Director and the Director of Economic Development to continue working with Regard Recovery to organize meetings at the former Wrangell Medical Center.
City of Wrangell staff reported on Wednesday (November 17) that Odell briefly visited Wrangell to talk about the next steps for a possible Wrangell addiction recovery center in the old hospital, but that no another meeting with Regard Recovery had not been scheduled.
If a transfer were to take place, the process would include an assessment of the value of the old hospital. Wrangell’s municipal code says the borough cannot sell a property valued at over $ 1 million without asking voters first.