Committee denies Marshfield Clinic permit to build hospital addition in Minocqua
3-2 vote may be appealed to Oneida County Board of Adjustment
BY KEVIN BONESKE
On a 3-2 vote Wednesday morning, the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee denied a conditional use permit for the Marshfield Clinic to build a 72,000-square-foot hospital addition to its current clinic in Minocqua.
Committee members Scott Holewinski, Jack Sorensen and Mike Timmons voted to deny the permit with Dave Hintz and Billy Fried opposing that motion, for which the majority’s basis for the denial had to do with the permit application not meeting a standard for approval that states, “The establishment, maintenance or operation of the conditional use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare.”
Holewinski, who chairs the committee and had sought additional information about the permit application, said that standard was the only one of the nine required in the county code for approval that he found couldn’t be met.
“Because of the level of service that we have right now, I don’t believe we’re going to have the level of emergency care that we have right now (if the permit would be approved),” Holewinski said. “I believe we’ll have real competition in the profitable surgeries, but we won’t – and everything that’s unprofitable will go away – we’ll have to travel long distances for that health care.”
The Marshfield Clinic applied in January for a conditional use permit to build a hospital that would have a surgery center, 12 in-patient beds, emergency room, imaging and lab. The proposed single-story addition, which has an estimated price tag from $30-35 million, would be built to the southwest of the existing clinic and designed for potential future expansion, vertically and horizontally, according to the permit application.
If approved, the project would place another hospital in the Minocqua-Woodruff area in close proximity to the existing Howard Young Medical Center that is part of Ministry Health Care and owned by Ascension. Representatives of HYMC expressed objections to the Marshfield Clinic’s proposal. HYMC also has its own multi-million-dollar renovation and construction project in the works.
Marshfield Clinic’s hospital addition proposal previously received the backing of both the Minocqua Plan Commission and the Town Board after both bodies heard from supporters and opponents before the permit application was forwarded to the county’s Planning and Development Committee, which held its own public hearing April 27 and also conducted an on-site inspection of the property May 10.
Marshfield Clinic regional medical director Bill Melms said he was disappointed with the committee’s decision.
“We feel that the three committee members that voted against us were led down a path by Ascension officials that they sort of fell into the smoke and mirrors that were presented,” Melms said. “They were confused between what competition is and what the general welfare standards were.”
Hintz, who urged the committee to base its decision on appropriate land use for the property, said it would be a “significant mistake” not to allow the Marshfield Clinic to expand in Minocqua.
“We’re refusing to let a legitimate company expand,” he said.
Holewinski said in response to a question from Hintz that HYMC could lose its profitable business to the Marshfield Clinic and no longer be able to afford its unprofitable services, while the 60-75 new jobs the Marshfield Clinic claims it would be adding with a hospital addition in Minocqua could negatively affect employment levels at HYMC.
When Hintz then asked if Holewinksi would feel the same way if the permit was for a new paper mill, which could hire employees away from an existing paper mill, Holewinski noted the committee was dealing with a permit for health care services and not a paper mill.
“We’re not dealing with a paper mill, we’re not dealing with McDonald’s, we’re not dealing with Kwik Trip,” added Sorensen. “I put medical services way above everything else…. If everybody wants a hospital down the street, all that’s going to do is continually cost more and more and more and more to all of us.”
Timmons said he didn’t believe the year-round population in the Minocqua-Woodruff area could sustain two hospitals.
“There’s not going to be quality staff anywhere if we keep spreading out so thin,” Timmons said.
HYMC president Sandy Anderson said the Marshfield Clinic’s proposal for a hospital addition in Minocqua would result in a duplication of services and also negatively affect HYMC’s staffing.
“People (at HYMC) would gravitate to those jobs (at the Marshfield Clinic), because their hours, they wouldn’t have as many hours at Howard Young to work,” Anderson said. “So it’s not 75 new jobs (at the Marshfield Clinic). There’s a lot more at risk when you look at starting to filter off services from one hospital to another.”
Fried, who also supported the Marshfield Clinic’s permit application as a member of the Minocqua Town Board, said the community would be served best by “giving those that want to try different models the opportunity.”
“Howard Young hopefully has sustainability,” Fried said. “It’s been mentioned that they would move forward no matter what happens here today.”
The committee’s denial may be appealed to the county’s Board of Adjustment. Melms said a decision by the Marshfield Clinic on how to proceed following the committee’s vote would be made sometime in the next 30 days prior to the deadline to file an appeal.
“We would like to build our hospital in Minocqua attached to our clinic – that’s best for our staff, best for our patients – but we will look at other options as well,” said Melms, who didn’t comment when asked whether the Marshfield Clinic might consider building a hospital nearby in Arbor Vitae in Vilas County.