St. John’s Medical Center will move forward with its plan to build a new senior Living Center after winning by the second-largest margin in Tuesday night’s specific purpose excise tax election.
The hospital’s request for taxpayer funding was the largest, with Proposition 10 topping out at $17 million.
Cheers erupted and bottles were popped when St. John’s Medical Center staff and administrators heard the good news: 4,073 votes for, 1,845 against.
The political action committee that advocated for the project, We Care for Seniors, rented a room in The Wort Hotel for supporters to gather.
“We did the right thing for the seniors in the community today,” said Dr. Paul Beaupre, the hospital’s CEO. Beaupre was nervously optimistic as he waited for results to come in.
He said he would celebrate with champagne either way, but celebrating a win was much sweeter than simply celebrating a campaign he was proud of.
“It feels really good,” Beaupre said. “This is a huge step forward for us.”
St. John’s Hospital Foundation will now be responsible for raising $9 million to cover half of the remaining costs. The total project is estimated to cost $35 million, with the hospital covering $9 million from its capital probation budget.
The existing Living Center, which was built in 1989, is modeled after a hospital, not a home, meaning residents share rooms and have little privacy. It isn’t equipped to offer memory care for patients with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The current facility is old enough that no major repairs or improvements can be made without breaking state codes, which have changed over the years, or displacing residents. The new project will be designed around pods so that residents can have private rooms and bathrooms with shared social spaces and kitchens.
The new building will be north of the center on land now used for parking. Ground could be broken as soon as spring 2018.
Sarah Graham, the Living Center’s interim director, seemed overcome with relief.
“I’m so grateful,” she said. “I’m so happy the community saw this as a need and that the leadership at St. John’s got behind it.”
Spokeswoman Karen Connelly agreed.
“I can’t wait until we open the doors to this place that’s going to be an amazing home,” she said. “I also feel good about living here, in a place where people care about this kind of thing.”
The foundation’s president, John Goettler, was jubilant, just like the rest of the crowd. He kept repeating “wow” and “what a week” when the final tally was announced.
“I’m really touched by the outpouring of support for St. John’s and the Living Center,” he said. “I’ve felt since the beginning that this is a terrific project. We are excited about the future we can provide for seniors in Teton County.”
Today the work begins for Goettler and his team to raise private donations.
“I think we can get it,” he said. “The tremendous response to this campaign makes me think we can do well in a generous county like Teton County.”
The work will also begin for Beaupre, Graham and their staff members. Beaupre said the bidding process will start gathering qualifications and proposals from architects and engineers. He said that ensuring the builder has experience with medical-quality facilities will be key and that community input will drive the process.
“At every step of the way there will be a chance for public comment,” Beaupre said. He said he would talk to people with particular concerns about senior care to “find out personally what they’re looking for.”
Teton Barber didn’t do a poll for the SPET election as it does for general elections and primaries. But regardless, Beaupre said he asked barber Mike Randall what he thought would pass. And it looks like he was right — the Living Center would, indeed, survive the vote.