Northwest: Reno is out of picture
By JUDITH O. ETZEL, The Derrick, 8/9/01

A special thank you goes out to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted.

In an effort to dissuade public criticism about its decision to switch locations for a new $65 million hospital, Northwest Health System has gone public as to what scuttled the project in Reno. 
In addition, Northwest officials say unequivocally "the Reno site is no longer being considered." 
A small but stubborn faction has publicly opposed Northwest's move on June 29 to change the new hospital site from Reno in Sugarcreek Borough to a 123-acre tract in Cranberry Township. That vocal opposition, from Sugarcreek Borough Council and a small faction of Franklin and Sugarcreek senior citizens, reportedly prompted the hospital's decision to respond. 
Sugarcreek Borough Council is considering whether to file a lawsuit against Northwest, in the midst of a merger with UPMC, for what it believes is a breach of contract. And the senior citizens' coalition is circulating petitions asking that Northwest reconsider its decision and opt back to Reno for convenience and economic reasons. 
One of the issues involves the deadline set for Sugarcreek to meet all the elements of an agreement that council signed with Northwest. The Northwest board of directors met June 29 to consider just where Sugarcreek was in terms of meeting that agreement. 
That meeting resulted in a vote to switch the site to Cranberry because "too many issues remained unsolved in Sugarcreek," according to a statement made that day by Northwest CEO Neil Todhunter. 
However, Sugarcreek council insists the borough had until Aug. 31 to obtain funding for sewer and highway projects and to line up options on all properties required for the new 110-bed hospital. All that was done by the day the Northwest board met, council insists. 
In comments released Wednesday, Northwest said the board opted to forego the Reno site on that June date because "it was clear...that the requirements...would not be met by Aug. 31." 
Specifically, said Northwest, it was evident that "good and marketable title" to at least two of the properties necessary for the hospital project could not be acquired by Aug. 31. It would have taken too much time, noted the hospital statement, and it may never have been able to be resolved. 
Typically, buyers need "clear title" to properties and that is sometimes very difficult, and in some cases impossible, for a variety of reasons, including: 
Oil/gas/mineral rights may not be included 
Rights-of-way over the property often must be continued 
Utility line abandonment or relocation can be a touchy issue 
Bank, tax or other liens levied against a property can complicate any transaction. 
Northwest declined to specify which properties were included in that category or what the specific title difficulties were. 
"We worked very hard on the Reno site for over nine months, since October 2000, and it was clear that we knew at the time our board made its decision at its regular meeting on June 29 to move to Cranberry that the loose ends were not going to come together within the allotted time frame," Todhunter said in a prepared statement. 
That decision was made, he said, after Northwest had made "significant efforts, and worked in good faith", to keep the Reno site on track for the new hospital. Sugarcreek, too, expended a considerable amount of time and energy on the hospital project, but "the acquisition of all required properties could not be conducted" according to the terms of the agreement, Northwest said. 
Despite public concerns about the land switch, Todhunter emphasized the decision to build in Cranberry Township will stand. 
"We are sympathetic to the concerns of our friends and neighbors, and appreciate their interest in the future of health care in Venango County. However, we need to stress that the new hospital is going to be built in Cranberry and the Reno site is no longer being considered," Todhunter said. 
Todhunter, who has repeatedly said Northwest did everything it could to build in what it termed was the "preferred site" in Reno, said he is aware the end result - building in Cranberry rather than in Reno - does not meet everyone's approval. But, he emphasized, Northwest is counting on the community "to support (the hospital's) goal of improving health care for the residents of Venango County and surrounding communities." 
Meanwhile, preliminary work at the Cranberry site, located off Route 257, is continuing as Northwest awaits a construction document detailing the design for the new hospital and an outline of what services it will provide. Signing that document, expected to be in hand by late October, will signal the formal merger of the Pittsburgh-based UPMC and Northwest. Groundbreaking could occur before the end of the year. 
In concluding his remarks, Todhunter said Northwest and Cranberry Township are "working very hard to ensure that health care services provided at the new hospital will be accessible and convenient as possible for everyone."