Tuesday night was the last evening for the on-going hearing on the proposed expansion of Saratoga Hospital. The Council will vote on the issue at their next meeting, February 2nd.
As noted earlier, at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting the hearing on Saratoga Hospital’s expansion plans began with Mayor Yepsen and Commissioner Franck recusing themselves. Mayor Yepsen cited potential work she was seeking with the Hospital Foundation. Commissioner Franck explained that he served as accountant to both the Morgan Street Homeowners Association and to the Birch Run Homeowners Association.
This left three Council members: Commissioners Madigan, Mathiesen, and Scirocco. The City Charter requires a minimum of three Council members to pass legislation so all three would have to vote in favor of the hospital’s proposal for it to pass.
The hearing then proceeded. We heard much of what we heard at the two previous public hearings. Staff from the hospital as well as representatives from the hospital board spoke of the need to be competitive in a challenging market. A number of people argued that proximity to the hospital can mean the difference between life and death. They also argued that by locating the offices together it would allow patients to more easily make visits to multiple doctors.
The neighbors countered with a number of arguments. One particularly amusing counter argument had to do with the odds of successfully coordinating putting together appointments with more than one doctor on the same day even if they were in the same location. Most of us know how challenging it is these days just to get an appointment with one specialist so his comments drew laughs.
Neighbors spoke of their concern that the hospital’s expansion would exacerbate the flooding they already experience. They spoke of their concerns about traffic. In fact, later in the meeting when City Planner Kate Maynard addressed the Council she noted that the traffic along the adjacent streets was expected to double. People spoke of how much they have loved living in their respective neighborhoods and spoke of the impact that this imposing structure with its large parking lot might have. They took strong objection to the hospital advocates’ repeated assertions that they had been in close contacts with the affected neighbors.
One of the most interesting presentations was done by Andrew Brick , an attorney hired by the neighbors. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the Comp Plan map but the site of the proposed doctors’ offices is in just a small part of a much larger area in that part of town that the Comp Plan has designated as “transitional.” “Transitional land” is land that the hospital could potentially develop. Mr. Brick pointed out that the drawings presented by the hospital showed a road to nowhere and water and sewer lines that seemed to arbitrarily end, all located on an additional site in this “transitional” area.
It seems likely that the hospital’s current expansion plan represents just one step in what is a much larger plan to grow. The City Council needs to require the hospital reveal what other long term plans they have to expand and how those plans will meet the needs of the city in order to properly evaluate this one step they are asking for now.
Another problem is the lack of objective information and independent analysis concerning the hospital’s proposal. It is difficult to evaluate the hospital’s assertions about the importance of having doctors lodged within walking distance of the hospital based only on the evidence presented by local supporters of the hospital. The City Council in one sense is being asked to determine if the benefit to the community of the hospital’s expansion outweighs the rights of the neighbors to maintain the quality of life of their neighborhood. Without some independent professional analysis of the effect that doctor proximity has on patient care it would seem difficult for the City Council as laypeople to make this determination.
The road to the hospital’s expansion began with the dubious process of inserting a change in the Comp Plan to allow change in a residential area without sufficient transparency and opportunity for public discussion. It is little wonder then that the hospital’s argument that their expansion plans are all about patient care lack credibility for many.
For the City Council to make an informed decision I feel, as I stated at the public hearing, that two steps need to be taken.
- The City Council needs to require that the hospital be fully transparent about all plans for the future growth of the hospital in Saratoga Springs
- The City Council should engage an independent consultant to advise them on evaluating the hospital’s arguments and help them determine if possible alternatives exist to meet the hospital’s needs.
Only then can the public be more confident that a fair and equitable decision is made that will be in the best interest of the community.