We're not done.
That was the message Mayor Dwight C. Jones conveyed in a closed-door meeting with advocates for a free-standing children's hospital in the region.
The hour-long meeting at City Hall Tuesday evening was attended by members of the mayor’s administration and area pediatricians affiliated with PACKids, a grassroots organization that has long lobbied for the project. Jones expressed frustration that the region’s two largest health systems backed out of negotiations for the project, but said he doesn’t think their decision is final.
“I feel like the announcement just took the wind out of our sails. Tonight is about recalibrating our efforts,” Jones says. “We’re going to have to go a different way, but there are ways we can go … We can’t give up.”
The effort to build a free-standing pediatric facility was dealt a major blow in May, when Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the Bon Secours Richmond Health System pulled out of negotiations that had been ongoing since late 2014. In a joint statement, the two health systems cited long-term financial concerns with the project, estimating that it would cost $1 billion in the next decade.
The Virginia Children’s Hospital Alliance, a nonprofit, was facilitating the discussions between the health systems. Members of the alliance have said the announcement to pull out of discussions came as a surprise, but they are still open to working with either or both hospital systems.
The organization released a statement in June that said it is exploring all options to see the project through. The alliance still has the backing of philanthropists William and Alice Goodwin, who buoyed the effort with a $150 million pledge for the construction of facility. At Tuesday’s meeting, Alice Goodwin said the couple still supported the effort to build the facility.
“We need to continue to roll up our sleeves and get this thing done,” she says.
Supporters of the project say it would provide consolidated care for the region’s families and serve as a driver of economic development in the region.
“A children’s hospital is something that will give back not just for decades, but a century or more … We need to do whatever it takes to make this happen,” says Dr. Boyd Winslow, a local pediatrician.
Several people in attendance voiced support for building the facility on the city-owned Boulevard property. The alliance, which was tasked with selecting a location for the hospital, has not publicly expressed its preferred site. It may need to do so soon.
At its July 27 meeting, City Council is scheduled to vote on a measure that, if approved, would ask the city’s chief administrative officer to solicit requests for proposals for the Boulevard site.