The former Morgan Memorial Hospital building has been at the center of a prolonged legal battle over zoning between the Hospital Authority and the City of Madison. After losing the lawsuit last week, the Morgan Medical Center Hospital Authority is threatening to abandon the old hospital building altogether.
“At this time, it is unclear whether Morgan Medical Center will continue to financially support the upkeep of our former location or whether we will be forced to step away from the financial burden of maintaining the property and direct that financial support to the health of our community,” said a joint statement from the MMC Hospital Authority.
“If we determine that the community’s best interest is the latter, we fear that the concerns about the former hospital’s sale adversely affecting the community’s image will pale in comparison to what we may be forced to do: Abandon the property and watch with you as it enters disrepair and becomes a black eye for the city of Madison.”
Last week, Morgan County Superior Court Judge Stephen Bradley issued a final ruling, which determined that any new buyer of the old hospital building will have to seek a conditional use permit from the city. The proposed buyer had been Flashpoint Recovery, an upscale inpatient rehab facility.
Flashpoint Recovery proposed opening a high-end drug rehabilitation center, planning to transform the property to look like a “five-star resort” and provide pricey inpatient care to the tune of $35,000 to $45,000 per month. The company in the past pledged to invest up to $3 million to revamp the old Morgan Memorial hospital campus.
But the city denied the hospital authority’s original request to issue a letter of certification guaranteeing the buyer the right to operate the rehab center without applying for a conditional use permit.
Hospital officials argued in court that a buyer intending to operate a drug or alcohol rehab facility, or other hospital-like uses, should not have to seek a conditional use permit from the city, arguing that the process is hampering the hospital’s effort to sell the old building located on South Main Street in Madison.
However Judge Bradley ruled in favor of the city, issuing a final ruling On Aug. 30, determining that since the old hospital building is no longer utilized as a hospital that any buyer planning to operate a facility beyond the building’s current use of “supplemental services” would have to apply for a conditional use permit through the City of Madison.
“Since the Authority only uses the property for these supplemental services, a purchaser or lessor would only be entitled to use the property for similar purposes without having to obtain a conditional use permit,” Judge Bradley wrote in his final ruling. “Any expansion or change to the current services provided, however, including use as a hospital or substance abuse rehabilitation center, would exceed the existing nonconforming use and therefore would require a conditional use permit.”
The ruling goes on to clarify that the hospital is free to sell to any buyer for any purpose, but that buyer will not be exempt from local zoning ordinances.
Madison City Attorney Jim Carter praised the ruling which upheld the city’s original stance to require a conditional use permit for any new buyer of the old hospital building.
“I can’t say enough good things about Judge Bradley,” said Carter. “There can be no hospital or drug rehab facility at the former location without a conditional use permit.”
In a previous interview, Madison Mayor Fred Perriman argued that the city’s refusal to acquiesce the hospital’s request to bypass zoning procedures was in the public’s best interest.
“We believe we owe it to our citizens to defend our right to have public input on whether or not to allow a drug rehabilitation hospital to operate in the P1 district,” said Perriman.
However, The MMC Authority lamented the ruling.
“We respect the rule of law. Thus, we respect the decision by Judge Stephen Bradley. However, we strongly disagree with the ruling,” said a joint statement from the authority. “Due to this ruling, Morgan Medical Center will be adversely affected in the pursuit of its mission of providing for the health of the city of Madison and Morgan County.”
The MMC Authority argued that years of this legal battle with the city has absorbed financial resources that could have been better spent on the healthcare needs of the local community.
“Morgan Medical Center has not spent taxpayer dollars on the legal pursuit of realizing its right to sell the property we own, but we have spent real dollars and cents in this pursuit — dollars and cents that otherwise could have been directed towards the pursuit of our mission of taking care of our fellow community members,” said a joint statement from the Authority.
“For the last several years, Morgan Medical Center has spent more than $300,000 maintaining the property of our former hospital location so we could partner with organizations that have provided community COVID-19 testing, police training, and healthcare services. These resources, not only dollars and cents—but also time, energy, and passion—which were necessarily focused on the legal matter with the city of Madison, were not available to take care of you. Through the pursuit of the sale of the property—our right—we were intent on securing funding to better serve your and your family’s healthcare needs.”
The Hospital Authority said the number one priority is to provide top quality healthcare, which has been harmed by the obstacles delaying the sale of the old hospital building.
“We at Morgan Medical Center have a different calling: worrying about you and your family’s health and wellbeing,” said a joint statement from the hospital authority.
“As a community member, whether you agree with the decision or not, you will be impacted. And the impact will be unfavorable for you, your family, and our community. We will all suffer.”