County health officials Monday defended their decision to reject an unoccupied El Cajon hospital as a replacement for the troubled Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital. They added that it will take more than three years to build a suitable replacement for Edgemoor.
Paul Simms, deputy director of the county Department of Health Services, said he was initially attracted to the 305-bed Valley House hospital but ultimately decided it was too small, too close to busy streets, and too awkwardly constructed.
Valley House, Simms told a news conference, was found to be "less than acceptable, less than something I would recommend for a facility to provide care for your family."
County officials have estimated the cost of replacing Edgemoor at $25 million. AmeriCal General Corp., the Carlsbad-based contracting firm that built Valley House, had offered it to the county for $12.8 million.
But not even that price tag could overcome the problems of Valley House, Simms and Edgemoor administrator Florence McCarthy said.
Valley House "would be a nightmare from a nursing management point of view with the type of patients we have," McCarthy said.
"Our patients are very different from those in the private sector. Most have significant physical and behavioral problems," she said. "With a small, tight building, especially if there was an emergency, there would be a real big problem."
Simms said the county has two possibilities for replacing Edgemoor: a bill submitted by state Sen. Jim Ellis (R--San Diego) that would double the state reimbursement for Edgemoor and a possible partnership with a private developer.
Simms said that a dozen proposals from firms with varying degrees of interest in the 40-acre Edgemoor site in Santee are being evaluated by a consultant.
Simms said the ideal solution to Edgemoor's problem would be for a developer to rebuild and expand Edgemoor, then use the rest of the 40-acre site for a profit-making venture. Once funding is available, Simms said it would take at least three years to design and build a replacement for Edgemoor.
The county consultant's report on the private proposals, along with the Valley House offer, will be part of a discussion in October by the Board of Supervisors about Edgemoor's future.
Carl Honour, president of AmeriCal, has appealed to the supervisors to overrule Simms and his boss, health director Dr. J. William Cox, and re-open negotiations for the purchase or lease of Valley House. The hospital is at Broadway and East Main Street in El Cajon.
"Our facility is completed, our lender has offered financing, and we're open to modifications at the county's request," Honour said. "Valley House is a reality, the county master plan is not."
Simms and McCarthy said Valley House was rejected because of its stairwells, lack of room to expand to 410 beds, and lack of space for such vital services as medical record keeping and rehabilitation therapy.