LANCASTER — In its quest to build a new, modern hospital to replace an existing facility that is a half-century old in places, the Antelope Valley Healthcare District will ask area voters to approve a $350 million bond measure in the March 2020 primary election.
The measure will require approval by two-thirds of the votes cast in the March 3 election.
Antelope Valley Hospital, governed by the District, sees more than 220,000 patients annually.
With original buildings dating to 1955, however, the facility faces constraints of physical space and a pressing need to meet current state seismic standards, for which a significant portion of the hospital could be deemed unusable if not addressed in the next couple years. These areas can not be retrofitted to meet today’s standards.
The hospital faces a 2025 state deadline to meet seismic standards. This is an extension to the original 2020 date, and comes with specific milestones in which the district must show progress toward constructing a new building or retrofitting the old.
If it can not meet the deadline, the hospital will be forced to close, officials said.
The District has put forth plans to build a new facility on land owned by the District to the west of the existing structures at Avenue J and 15th Street West.
This new facility has an estimated price tag of $600 million to $650 million. The voter-approved bond measure will cover a portion of these costs, with the remainder to be raised through private, tax-exempt bonds and potentially county and federal programs, CEO Ed Mirzabegian said during a series of town hall events earlier this year.
The District Board of Directors unanimously agreed to move forward with the bond measure on the March ballot at its regular meeting Wednesday with little discussion.
The 30-year bond will cost property-owning taxpayers $28 to $30 per $100,000 valuation annually, Mirzabegian said. At the higher end, that would mean $90 per year for a $300,000 house.
“That’s not acceptable,” Lancaster resident Michael Rives said of the property tax increase associated with the bond measure. “We just can’t afford it.”
“I’m not going to vote for any more taxes,” he said.
Director Dr. Abdallah Farrukh said a new facility is needed for more than meeting state requirements; the current building is outdated and inefficient, and impacts patient care. In addition, the emergency department is too small for the number of patients it serves.
“We can not have an institution like that,” he said. “This belongs to the public, belongs to the district and the public is entitled to a new facility.”
If the hospital is forced to close, it will not only affect healthcare in the community, it will also have an economic impact, as well, with 2,600 employees out of work, Farrukh said.
Another argument offered in support of a new facility is that it will help recruit and retain medical personnel.
Mirzabegian urged staff to help with the bond measure campaign.
“I need you guys to help us campaign,” he told members of the California Nurses Association, who have begun negotiations for a new contract.
“Basically, the people who are against our campaign want to close this hospital down, especially the competition, Palmdale hospital (Palmdale Regional Medical Center),” he said. “It’s going to get a little bit dirty when it comes to competition.”
This is not the first time the District has sought public support to finance the new building. In November 2018, the District asked voters to approve a $350 million bond measure for seismic retrofitting or a new facility. That measure failed to secure the 66.6% of the vote to pass, with 63.9% voting to approve it.
The election also came at a time of turmoil for the district and hospital, as then-CEO Michael Wall and then-Chief Financial Officer Colette Nichols were on paid administrative leave pending investigation into unspecified improprieties. Both later resigned.