WCEDA March 7 meeting hears announcement of freestanding ER

EMERGENCY ROOM PRESENTATION: Pictured here, l-r are Danny Glidewell (BCC/WCEDA), Todd Jackson (CEO of HCA Twin Cities Hospital), and Uriah Matthews (WCEDA Executive Director.)

By RUBY KEARCE

The Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA) met for its regular meeting on March, 7. Todd Jackson CEO of HCA’s Twin Cities Hospital presented news that reportedly was not known to the public at the time. Jackson informed the WCEDA that he is aware of the need for emergency healthcare in north Walton County, and that Twin Cities Hospital in Fort Walton Beach administers care to many north Walton County residents. Jackson said that his company will be constructing a freestanding Emergency Room on a 9-acre parcel of land adjacent to the new CEFCO station near the I-10 exit in front of Starbucks, in DeFuniak Springs. 

Jackson explained that Freestanding E.R.s act just the same as those attached to full-fledged hospitals by giving 24/7 emergency care including lab work, pharmacy, and imaging. The facility will be 11,000 square feet to start, with plans to expand in the future. Jackson said that unlike other freestanding E.R.s in the area, this one will not be landlocked, and the goal will be to attach a full hospital in the future without disrupting care being given in the E.R.

Jackson continued that although this E.R. will not offer in-patient care, he aims is to have an internal Emergency Medical Service (EMS) transport to the surrounding hospitals offering in-patient care when needed to take some of the load from Walton County EMS. Jackson further explained that CEFCO will be putting in all of the infrastructure that is needed for commercial support needed to access their 9-acre parcel. CEFCO’s installation of infrastructure, however, is expected to take around the same amount of time as the designing and planning phase, meaning this should not slow the project down. 

Jackson opened the floor to questions. WCEDA asked if the recent growth of Walton County has also aided in the growth of HCA and other similar companies. Jackson said that the need for healthcare is not going away anytime soon and is an integral part of a growing community. Jackson noted that the larger the population, the easier it is to support a freestanding E.R.

Asked how many jobs this facility will offer for the community, Jackson explained that this facility will be able to offer 35 full-time equivalents. However this does not equate to 35 full-time employees, but 40 to 50 employees, who could make $30 an hour with a full suit of benefits, and the offer of paid education. 

Alliance member Megan Harrison with the Walton County Area Chamber voiced her support for Jackson’s project, saying that a community needs a strong education system, good healthcare, and a good quality of life for proper economic growth.

Discussion moved on to discuss a Fortune 500 company that reportedly approached Matthews regarding the purchase of land in Walton County, with the name of the company not currently being disclosed. After conversation among Realtor Shelton Stone and Matthews the company was initially directed to SR-20 in Freeport, but after further evaluation, the property in Freeport was not ideal. Stone then contacted Matthews again with interest in the Woodlawn property that WCEDA is currently marketing and then met at the property for further evaluation. 

Matthews detailed that this company will be bringing 300 – 500 jobs to the area, and will need a 10,000-square-foot building, with the potential to add on, and plenty of parking. All things for which the 16 acres of developmental land that WCEDA owns on U.S. 331, would be perfect. Matthews explained to the alliance that he is in need of direction to bring purchase options back to the WCEDA meeting in April, as well as permission to work alongside Alliance member Ashely Rogers with Dunlap & Shipman to have something properly prepared for Attorney Clay Adkinson when he arrives back in order to make this a more seamless exchange. 

Matthews said that this would occur over 120 days, with WCEDA reserving the right to continue to marketing the property, and the company only being allowed to conduct the project that was discussed. Roger explained that she will not be taking on a client but will only be offering her skills to the alliance. A motion was then passed to allow Matthews and Rogers to work together to develop a draft to be brought before Attorney Adkinson and then be brought back before the alliance for final approval.