The former North Ridge Medical Center Photo: BrowardBulldog.org
UPDATE: Jan. 16 — Shot down unanimously by Oakland Park’s planning and zoning board on Monday, a Delray Beach drug rehab operator’s controversial plan to develop a 300-bed psychiatric hospital on the site of the old North Ridge Medical Center is expected to go before the city commission soon for a final decision.
A hearing could be held at City Hall in as soon as three weeks.
“The applicant wants Feb. 5,” said senior planner Kristin Nowicki. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to do that, but we have to make sure all the requirements are fulfilled. If not, then it would be the 19th.”
The applicant is Palm Partners LLC, which operates a small, upscale drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. The company’s owner, Peter A. Harrigan, has said he expects to create 300 jobs at the North Ridge site.
“We had a packed house at our hearing,” said Caryl Stevens, a former mayor who now chairs the zoning board. “The area around this site is a working class neighborhood and it is by design: easy accessibility to schools. People are concerned.”
UPDATE: Jan. 13 — Declaring that a proposed psychiatric hospital is not compatible with nearby Northeast High School, the Broward School Board notified Oakland Park today that it “must compel the applicant to ensure” the facility “will not negatively impact” the school.
“The subject sites are in close proximity to Northeast High School. The district’s position is that the proposed project is incompatible with the school due to potential spillover effects from the proposed establishment,” said the letter sent to the city clerk boy Mohammed Rasheduzzaman, a planner in the growth School Board’s monitoring unit.
The high school is about a block away from the site, which once housed North Ridge Medical Center. Many children heading to and from school must walk by the property.
The School Board’s decision to wade in on the matter only hours before tonight’s public hearing before the city’s planning and zoning board could jeopardize chances for approval that had earlier seemed likely.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A proposed 300-bed “psychiatric/behavioral health facility” on the site of the shuttered North Ridge Medical Center in Oakland Park is stoking fear among jittery neighborhood residents, and assurances of strong oversight and security from the prospective new owner.
Palm Partners LLC, which operates an upscale drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Delray Beach, hopes to operate a similar facility on the 11-acre campus that would take advantage of the hospital setting to provide not only inpatient detoxification and rehab, but treatment for other maladies such as eating disorders and sleep apnea.
“We run a very tight ship,” said Peter A. Harrigan, owner and chief executive of for profit Palm Partners. “I think we’ll be a great asset for the community.”
Harrigan said he expects to create 300 new jobs.
City planning staff is recommending approval, with several minor conditions like improved landscaping and the addition of bus shelters. A public hearing before the planning and zoning board is set for Monday at 6:30 p.m. The city commission is to take up the issue in February.
Palm Partners owner Peter Harrigan
Monday’s agenda item about the new North Ridge psychiatric hospital does not use inflammatory words like “drug” or “alcohol,” nor is there any discussion of Palm Partners’ existing drug rehab center and treatment program.
Rather, the document indicates Palm Partners will cater only to a well-heeled class of psychiatric patient.
“Palm Partners will not accept Medicaid patients, Baker Act patients, other indigent care patients or walk-ins. All patients will pay through private insurance, third party reimbursement or cash,” the agenda says.
Most patients will stay “30-90 days.” The cost of a 30-day stay at Northridge would be $24,500, Harrigan said.
Holy Cross Hospital bought the site at 5757 N. Dixie Highway from healthcare giant Tenet Healthcare in 2008 for a reported $20 million, including an adjacent medical office building. It has agreed to sell to Palm Partners for an undisclosed sum, but the sale is conditional on the city’s approval of Palm Partners’ plans. While there has been some confusion about the status of the office building, which is occupied, it is not part of the proposed sale, according to city officials.
Once the purchase by the for profit Palm Partners closes, the property now owned by the non-profit Catholic hospital would return to the city’s tax roll.
The facility, originally an acute care general hospital built in 1974, is near three public schools: Rickards Middle, Northeast High and North Andrews Gardens Elementary. Children walk by every day on their way to and from school.
Signs have been up at the site for more than a month disclosing the upcoming hearing, but several people interviewed for this article were critical of what they said were the city’s inadequate notification efforts.
Kristeena Chace’s daughter attends Northeast and her son is a third-grader at North Andrews Elementary. She and her mother, Tina, believe Palm Center’s plans to draw psychiatric patients for treatment puts local children at risk.
“I have major concerns,” said Kristeena Chace. “I am an alumni of all these schools and I stayed in the neighborhood. I wanted to bring my children up in a safe environment. However, if a hospital like that is put in there my children will not be safe.”
Shannon Thompson, who has a first-grader at North Andrews Elementary and a seventh-grader at Rickards Middle, agrees.
“I’m not happy at all about this. It will expose our children to things that are probably not very safe,” said Thompson. “They’re claiming they’ll have good security, but I don’t foresee that as being 100 percent.”
Oakland Park Mayor John Adornato did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Harrigan says neighbors’ concerns are groundless. With 24-hour security and “a tremendous amount of psychiatric staff, doctors and nurses, we will provide the highest level of care.
“The biggest thing people need to recognize is that this is a voluntary program. They want to be there. They’re not court-ordered,” said Harrigan. “We are investing a tremendous amount of money in the neighborhood. We want the quality of the neighborhood to stay intact and we want to help it get better.”
A Palm Partners advertisement
Palm Partners’ program summary offers further safety assurances.
“No patients will be permitted to leave the facility without staff ascertaining the patient’s present status and ability. In the event a patient wishes to leave prior to the end of their treatment, arrangement will be made for them to be taken to their intended location off premises, in a safe and responsible manner,” the summary says.
The program summary says the new hospital will feature an array of health care practitioners including medical doctors, psychiatrists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, pharmacists and massage therapists.
Should the city commission approve the psychiatric hospital, the only remaining requirement will be a site license from the state.
Harrigan, who has other smaller facilities in Lantana and Miami, hired lawyer/lobbyist Pam Kane, a partner in Fort Lauderdale’s Panza Maurer & Maynard, to represent Palm Partners before the city.
In November, Palm representatives met with residents of the surrounding North Andrews Gardens and Embarcadero Condominium neighborhoods. Harrigan said “we’ve gotten a very favorable response.”
The stakes are high for Harrigan, who said he will relocate his corporate office to North Ridge.
“There is a lot of competition in this business,” he said. “Fort Lauderdale will be the cornerstone. This will double the size of our company.”
Harrigan said getting fully up and running would take “a couple of years.”
“After we close (the sale), it will be another 60 days before we take our first patient,” he said. “There will be 60 people on staff on opening day. It will be a slow ramp up.”