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Hospital plan gets chilly reception from neighbors: Homeowners worry about location of St. Vincent's Seton Specialty Hospital

June 19, 2006

Concerns about oxygen tanks and noisy delivery trucks have cropped up since St. Vincent unveiled plans last winter for the long-term, acute-care hospital on Township Line Road.

"They just kind of stomped in and said, 'This is what we're going to do,'" said Beth King, a resident of Spring Hill Place, a 40-home subdivision on the site's northern border.

However, hospital officials, who are preparing for a ground breaking on the $17 million project this month, say they made several design tweaks in an attempt to be good neighbors.

"I feel like we have satisfied a majority of the residents' concerns," said St. Vincent Chief Strategy Officer Kevin Speer.

Allegations of arrogant behavior take this disagreement beyond the typical notin-my-back-yard tussle between homeowners and developers.

Some Spring Hill residents sent a letter to St. Vincent CEO Vince Caponi outlining inflammatory comments they say hospital representatives made during public meetings.

According to the letter, one hospital executive told residents, "It's my property and I could build a Steak n Shake on it if I wanted to that would be operational 24 hours a day."

The letter also quoted the executive as saying, "You should be happy that St. Vincent is going to be your neighbor. The other option is a 117,000-square-foot medical office building with 700 parking spaces that would be fully operational on evenings, weekends and holidays."

According to the letter, another St. Vincent executive said he "wouldn't want an oxygen tank in my back yard, either. But unfortunately, our patients use a lot of oxygen and we must meet our business objectives."

Three Spring Hill residents said the quotes were verbatim from public meetings on the hospital plan. The letter provides no context on when the statements were made.

Speer declined to comment on them. He said he wasn't at the meetings, and didn't want to get into "a finger-pointing situation."

But he did say Spring Hill residents had a chance to participate in development of the project and that, ultimately, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission approved it.

The City-County Council will consider final approval at its June 19 meeting.

The 64,750-square-foot, two-story Seton Specialty Hospital will contain about 74 patient beds and treat "the sickest of the sick," Speer said. That means patients who need prolonged hospital stays, like people in comas or on respirators.

St. Vincent currently operates longterm-care hospitals inside its Carmel and Indianapolis hospitals. It will consolidate those operations into the new hospital because new government regulations prevent it from essentially running a separate hospital within other hospitals.

The hospital's rear will sit beyond the backyard property lines of several Spring Hill homes. It will be about 80 feet from a sunroom Joyce Lockridge built three years ago.

"When they run their emergency generators, we will be inhaling fumes," she said. "Their heating and air-conditioning will be almost level with our bedrooms, so all that is going to be blowing into our homes."

Neighbors also worry about the steady noise generated by delivery trucks and about the safety of hospital oxygen tanks.

"We are not getting the pretty side; we're getting the dirty side," noted Dan Shinabery, another Spring Hill resident.

However, city planners don't believe the tanks pose a risk, said Mike Peoni, administrator for the Division of Planning for the Department of Metropolitan Development.

Both he and Speer say St. Vincent adjusted its plans to accommodate some concerns. The hospital network agreed to build a 4-foot earthen barrier between the homes and the hospital and to plant trees to help deaden noise and block the view.

They also moved some parking spaces from the north side, and opted for two shorter, less-visible oxygen tanks partially surrounded by a screen wall.

In short, Speer believes St. Vincent made "every effort" to satisfy resident concerns.

"But at the end of the day, it's probably impossible to satisfy everyone's concerns," he said.
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