Health system’s land purchase demonstrates good foresight

The Boy Scouts’ motto is “Be prepared.” It could just as easily be Columbus Regional Health’s motto, too.

The local health system has purchased about 800 acres of farmland west of downtown Columbus — south of Jonathan Moore Pike, west of State Road 11 and north of the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds — to facilitate long-term needs.

The 30-acre hospital campus on 17th Street is landlocked and doesn’t allow for more growth. One-hundred years ago when the hospital first located there, it was on the outskirts of Columbus with plenty of space to spread out. Not anymore.

Columbus has grown, especially on the west side. Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. took steps of its own to plan for west-side growth by purchasing a 23-acre site on Tipton Lakes Boulevard in 2011 as the site of a future elementary school.

Now Columbus Regional Health is taking similar steps to better serve people who live or work on the west side.

The first was purchase last July of the 20-acre Clarion Hotel and Conference Center property on Jonathan Moore Pike for future development that could include an outpatient center, medical office space or urgent care, among uses being considered. The second is the hospital system’s March 2 purchase of the 800-acre site, which has many potential benefits — both for the health network and healthcare in general but also for the broader community.

Needing 100 or 150 of those acres for medical services opens up 650 to 700 acres for other economic development, including much-needed, shovel-ready sites for industry. The hospital’s purchase can facilitate that — along with carving out room for also-needed housing in the development.

The hospital system has been a strong community supporter, a point that was best hammered home when Columbus Regional Hospital closed for five months right after the June 2008 flood and used funds earmarked for expansion then to pay out $35 million in salary to its sidelined workers. President and CEO Jim Bickel and the system as a whole worked hard to recover from the flood. To be in this position 10 years later to move forward with expansion is a testament to the health system’s leadership and the spirit of its employees.

Spending $11 million to buy the 800-acre parcel is a sound decision, especially in the context of other investments Columbus Regional Health has made. It is spending about $35 million to convert physician network and hospital medical records to a new electronic medical records platform, at least $7 million more on new hospital equipment and $3 million on a hybrid operating room which combines a cardiac cath lab and a surgical suite.

Beyond the benefit of having expanded medical services on the new property, property taxes will be collected by local government when the land is developed — to help pay for needed community services. Although legally exempt from paying property taxes, the county hospital and its health network has had a longstanding policy of paying taxes on its properties.

Diverse, convenient medical services are among factors that contribute to a strong quality of life. With its strategic planning and financial investments, Columbus Regional Health is building a better tomorrow for the city and the region.