LeFlore County readies for new health department facility

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 86 views 

LeFlore County residents will soon have a new health department headquarters featuring cost-saving water-heating technology that has not been introduced to any building in the county until now.

According to Lance Smith, chairman of the LeFlore County Board of Directors, the new $3.3 million facility will feature a geothermal heat pump to heat and cool the building instead of a boiler room.

He said while the expense was large initially, nearly double the cost of a typical boiler room, the health department should see a good return on investment over time through reduced energy costs.

"Hopefully within eight to 10 years it will pay itself off," Smith said.

Matthew Duke, the project manager for the new building, said new fusion-welded pipes will also reduce corrosion, saving even more money over time.

The new 20,000-square foot facility, located on Dewey Street adjacent to Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center in Poteau, will also feature space to see additional patients and meeting space to accommodate community groups, according to Smith.

He said a new facility was desperately needed to replace the county's current location just a few blocks away.

"We're actually in an old nursing home," Smith said. "The old building is dilapidated. It's in terrible condition."

By moving to a facility custom-designed for the health department, patients will notice a more efficient operation that will provide more privacy, something currently lacking.

"The way these (check-in stations) are designed at an angle, it's on purpose to give customers more privacy," Smith said.

Leslie Covey, public information officer for the LeFlore County Health Department, said a wide variety of services are offered to the public, so a new facility that offers not only new infrastructure but increased privacy is important.

"Our case load is big and we hope to have it grow," she said, adding that more than 8,500 patients were served during the 2012 fiscal year.

According to Covey, some of the many programs offered by the health department include the Women, Infant and Children Nutrition (WIC) program, family planning for both men and women, STD screening and immunization programs for individuals of all ages.

She said it was important to complete the new building not only to see an increased number of patients and to provide privacy for patients, but also to provide a safe and sterile environment for staff and patients to function.

"We've had squirrels (in the current building). And snakes have been a big issue, too," she said. "Having the new facility will definitely improve employee morale."

In order to fund the construction, Smith said the health department staff had set aside funds each year for the last several years. When construction started last summer, funds saved during the last several years totaled more than $1 million, he said.

Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center donated the land used for construction, providing the county with significant savings, Turner added.

He said the remainder of funding came from issuing bonds through the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority.

"They were issued for 20 years but it was set up through the state bonding authority for better interest rates," Smith said.

Even though bonds were issued for the project, Smith said the county is not on the hook for paying back the cost of construction.

"The state health department will pay the bonds back," he said. "We just sold the bonds, but there was no local cost at all to the residents. The state will pay it all back."

Smith said construction is expected to be completed sometime in May with move-in and opening occurring sometime that same month.

"I think it will be a nice facility to benefit the people of this area for many years to come."