BARSTOW Barstow Community Hospital officials are asking the city to renegotiate their contract to build a new hospital facility so that they can build a 30-bed hospital rather than the previously proposed 60-bed facility, to cut back on construction costs.

Hospital CEO Michael Stewart told the Barstow City Council at their meeting Monday that Community Health Systems, the company that operates the hospital, is still committed to having the new facility open by October 2012 as specified in their contract with the city, but preliminary bids in the summer of 2008 showed the cost of work had almost doubled since previous estimates. In 2005, when the city signed its agreement with CHS to build a new hospital, costs were projected at about $60 million.

Based on the higher-than-anticipated costs and the fact that the hospital currently averages only about 23 patients in inpatient beds each day, CHS is proposing to amend its contract with the city to build a 30-bed acute care facility with a floor plan that would allow for future expansion to a 60-bed facility. The current hospital building is licensed for 56 beds but has only averaged about 23 patients in the inpatient rooms on any given day over the past five years.

The current hospital, which is still owned by the city although it is operated by CHS, does not meet state standards for earthquake-proofing. In 2005 the city signed an agreement with CHS, to build a new facility across the street. CHS bought the land for the new hospital site from the city in 2007 for $650,000, according to City Manager Richard Rowe.

CHS agreed to foot the bill of building a new hospital, while in return the city waived its rent on the current facility, on the condition that if the new hospital is not built, the company will pay all of the back rent.

Rowe said the total bill, at a rate of $100,000 a month, would come to more than $5 million if CHS were to back out. The city would then have to buy the land back and would be stuck with the task of upgrading the current hospital to meet the state's earthquake-proofing requirements.

A study commissioned by the city in 1999 estimated the costs of retrofitting at $20 million, and Rowe noted that the price has likely risen considerably since then.

Rowe said his priority is to make sure that the new hospital retains all the services included in its current license as a general acute care facility.

If the City Council approves an amended contract, CHS will need to submit new plans to the Office of Statewide Planning and Development. Initial plans were submitted in April of 2008. Stewart told the Council that he believes the new hospital can still be completed on schedule.

The City Council took no action on the CHS proposal at Monday's meeting.

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