A new medical facility planned for McMillian Mesa was approved by the city Planning and Zoning commission last week, over the objections of top leadership and staff at the Flagstaff Medical Center.
The company Apricus, working with several local doctors including Flagstaff Family Care Clinic, was approved by all but one of the commissioners to build a 44,700-square-foot facility at 1895 N. Jasper Drive.
More than half of the building would consist of medical offices for family physicians, while a third of the building would act as what an Apricus representative called a micro-hospital with a small emergency room.
And it was that latter part of the proposal that brought Apricus before the commission, and seemingly into the sights of Flagstaff Medical Center.
The planned micro-hospital would contain between six and eight beds in which patients could stay for more than 24 hours. With the area’s zoning already allowing medical uses, the allowance for overnight stay was the only thing that required a city permit before the project moved forward.
The approval of the project came after the proposed micro-hospital was discussed by the commission the previous month. But after strong opposition voiced by several employees of Flagstaff Medical Center, the commission opted to delay the vote.
And the same phenomenon occurred last week, with many hospital employees, including FMC Chief Administrative Officer Josh Tinkle, raising concerns about the project.
FMC Chief Medical Officer Derek Feuquay said he worried the small facility would not actually be able to care for most emergencies. Feuquay said he believed that should the facility be built, patients could end up rushing to the micro-hospital only to find they could not be treated there and then have to travel to FMC.
Feuquay and other employees said the new facility would end up delaying care and increasing costs to patients.
But Apricus representative Lindsay Schube pushed back on that, saying their emergency room would be able to handle anything that any other emergency rooms could, with fully certified emergency room doctors and staff.
Schube said Apricus officials had offered to meet with FMC leadership prior to the commission’s first meeting, but were ghosted. They then met with FMC leadership twice before the second meeting, but she said those discussions were not productive.
“I have to admit, we are all scratching our heads as to why the 250-bed hospital is concerned with our 6- to 8-bed hospital,” Schube told the commission. “What we’re talking about today is an expansion of public health in the middle of an international pandemic. […] In meeting with the hospital, they said their primary concern is the health and safety of the community. We couldn’t agree more. There are unmet needs within the community today and we are here to fill that gap.”
Vince Martinez, director at Guardian Medical Transport, said he opposed the new project because he believed the route ambulances would take through the parking lot would be too dangerous for drivers, and that there was already plenty of traffic on nearby roads.
“You know, I just continue to worry about the traffic congestion in the McMillian area up here,” Martinez said.
Schube pointed out that even after approval by the planning and zoning commission, they would still need to get everything approved by the state health board as well.
According to city staff, the traffic implications of the new project would be minimal. Schube said in their experience operating other similarly sized facilities, they get only a handful of ambulance drop-offs a month.
Both Guardian and FMC are owned by Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH), the primary provider of medical care in the northern part of the state. Meanwhile, the commission heard from other medical professionals who supported the project, and cast doubts on the intentions of those who spoke against the project.
In an email to the commission, Darius Moezzi of Flagstaff Bone and Joint wrote: “Northern Arizona Healthcare is both monopolistic and divisive. Another hospital system within our community is strongly supported by the majority of the medical staff, despite what you may hear from NAH leadership.”
That argument didn’t sway P&Z commissioner Marie Jones, who said she could not support the project given the concerns of so many at the hospital.
But commissioner Eric Nolan felt differently.
Nolan said while he sympathized with many of the concerns brought up by FMC staff, he found himself supporting it for two reasons.
“The hospital is planning on moving and it’s not exactly moving down the street: it will be out near Fort Tuthill. So I’m concerned there won’t be enough services in its absence. And then the second is because we are still going through a pandemic […] I just look at this as an essential need as far as infrastructure; that we have something that could potentially fill in a void once the hospital moves.”
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.