UPDATE: FEB. 21 — With anxious residents watching at city hall and at home on computers and cable television, Oakland Park has put off for two weeks a decision on whether to approve a controversial psychiatric and drug rehabilitation hospital. The reason: Wednesday night’s hearing ran too late to finish the hearing.
About 40 persons spoke for and against the project.
Resident and former Mayor Steven Arnst was critical of a letter sent to the city by a West Palm Beach lawyer for the developer instructing commissioners on their “duty” to grant Palm Partners’ application and warned that they faced a possible discrimination lawsuit if they did not. Arnst called it a “threat.”
Fort Lauderdale lawyer Wilson Atkinson, who represents another rehab facility, Fort Lauderdale Hospital, informed commissioners that Palm Partners does not have a Florida Agency for Health Care Administration license needed to operate a 300-bed psychiatric/behavioral health hospital.
Atkinson said that should the city approve the project, and Palm Partners is unable to obtain such a license, the city would be stuck with a facility that would operate under less stringent Department of Children and Families regulations for residential treatment facilities. Those facilities allow patients to freely come and go outside specific treatment hours — a nightmare scenario for residents and one that Palm Partners has said it would not allow.
The five-member city commission will pick up the quasi-judicial hearing regarding the proposal to open the North Ridge Behavioral Health Center on March 5.
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Revised plans for a controversial psychiatric/behavioral health hospital on the site of the old North Ridge Medical Center in Oakland Park are to be presented to the city commission Wednesday before a final up or down vote.
The changes, including additional fencing and assurances that it would not admit convicted sexual offenders to its residential treatment programs, were made to satisfy the concerns of nearby residents.
If approved, the proposal by Palm Partners LLC promises to reinvigorate a working hospital facility vacant since its purchase and closure by nonprofit Holy Cross Hospital in 2008. It would also create 300 new jobs and return the property to the tax rolls, promising “a significant increase in revenues to the city,” according to the proposal.
Today, Palm Partners operates a small, upscale drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Delray Beach. Its plan for a much larger, 300-bed facility to be known as the North Ridge Behavioral Health Center has provoked a strong negative reaction from wary residents in Oakland Park’s North Andrews Gardens neighborhood.
City Hall, located at 3650 NE 12th Avenue, is bracing for a crowd at Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. public hearing.
“We are expecting a lot of people,” said Kristen Nowicki, an Oakland Park senior planner.
Two elementary schools and a high school are in the neighborhood. Several parents said in interviews that they fear their children will not be safe.
Opposition to the psychiatric facility has also come from the Broward School Board, which recently notified the city of its concern about “spillover effects” from the proposed psychiatric facility on nearby Northeast High School.
“The district’s position is that the proposed project is incompatible with the school,” said a letter from the School Board’s growth monitoring unit.
Last month, the city’s five-member planning and zoning board unanimously recommended the commission deny Palm Partner’s application to the city for its approval. If the city commission votes no, Palm Partners, owned by company chief executive Peter A. Harrigan, would have to go to court in an attempt to make the project happen.
Palm Partners signed a contract last year to purchase the 11-acre site on North Dixie Highway, between Northeast 56th and 58th streets, from Holy Cross Hospital for an undisclosed sum.
The company has said it hopes to operate an inpatient detoxification and rehab facility that will cater to a well-heeled class of psychiatric patient. The hospital would also treat other maladies such as eating disorders and sleep apnea.
“Our facilities and services fill a significant gap in our society, providing much-needed help to those suffering with addiction and behavioral health. These illnesses are life threatening and tear families apart. Our facilities provide a foundation for recovery,” Harrigan said in a statement on Monday.
“We often hear that people know someone who needed help, including family, but were unsure what to do. Education is key and we will work with the neighboring high school and other community organizations to provide educational and outreach programs. We are here to help, and I will work hard every day to ensure this hospital is a community partner that the City of Oakland Park can be proud of,” Harrigan said.
Palm Partners has told city officials it 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.
In an interview, Harrigan said most patients would stay 30-90 days. The cost of a 30-day stay would be $24,500, he said.
Harrigan has sought to assure neighbors that the hospital intends to make sure that its patients pose no threat to local residents.
“I appreciate the neighbors’ concerns and share in the need to keep our communities safe. Safety is paramount to our mission,” Harrigan said in Monday’s statement. “We have operated in Florida for 20 years and have never had a security incident involving the surrounding neighborhood.
“Our plans to invest $20 million to restore this facility, which has been vacant since 2008, will serve as a catalyst for economic growth, drawing businesses back to the area and creating thousands of jobs for the City of Oakland Park. Our investment will restore the hospital into a leading, cutting-edge facility, which will provide substantial tax revenue to the City.”