Health First to relocate Cape Canaveral Hospital to Merritt Island, open new facilities

Health First is planning a $600 million restructuring that involves opening new facilities and moving Cape Canaveral Hospital to Merritt Island, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.

Health First will build three “wellness and health villages” located at Melbourne, Merritt Island and Palm Bay, according to a news release. The Merritt Island location, at the current site of Merritt Island Pro Health and Fitness center near the Merritt Square Mall, will be the new site of Cape Canaveral Hospital. The plans will invest $600 million into the county over five years.

In addition to health services, each planned “wellness village” will include food retailers, fitness services, walking trails and meeting space for community events. Both the Palm Bay and Merritt Island facilities will have centers for mammograms and other breast-treatment services.

“These wellness villages will transform the customer healthcare experience for Brevard,” Health First President Steve Johnson said in the news release. “With these villages, we will be able to increase access, ease and convenience of healthcare for families at an affordable cost.”

The plan calls for construction to start at the new Merritt Island facility in 2020. It is not clear when it would be completed. Cape Canaveral Hospital will continue operations at its current site until the new facility is complete.

The new hospital on Merritt Island will have 120 private, inpatient beds, six operating suites and 28 private emergency department bays. The relocation would move Cape Canaveral Hospital’s services just four miles away from its current location on State Road 520 in Cocoa Beach.

Plans for the Melbourne location also include a pharmacy and an expanded childcare space for children of Health First employees. Construction on the facility, located east of Holmes Regional Medical Center, will begin in 2020, according to the news release.

The Palm Bay facility will be located at the intersection of Malabar and Minton Roads; construction begins in 2021.

Health First is Brevard County’s largest health care provider. It operates Holmes Regional, Palm Bay Hospital, Viera Hospital and Cape Canaveral Hospital, as well as health insurance plan and other health care facilities.

Health First doesn’t own Cape Canaveral Hospital. The hospital and the land it sits on is owned by the Cape Canaveral Hospital District, a special taxing district set up by the state in 1959 to fund the construction of a hospital to support the growing number of space workers and their families moving into the area.

In 1995, the district entered into an agreement to lease the hospital to Health First.

Health First will pay to demolish the existing 50-year-old building, Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik said. Malik was briefed on the restructuring Wednesday afternoon by Health First officials. Malik also sits on the board of the government entity that owns Cape Canaveral Hospital.

The parking garage is the only part of the facility that is not functionally obsolete, he said. Malik said he expected the land to revert back to the city after Health First pulls out.

Kimberly Rezanka, the attorney who represents the hospital district, says the land and buildings will remain district property unless the hospital district is dissolved, either by the Florida Legislature or by a vote of registered voters within the district.

She said the district itself has no debt tied to the property.

As long as the district continues to own the property, it can only be used for the purpose of “providing health care facilities and services to all those in need regardless of ability to pay,” according the legislation that created the district.

Rezanka said that while Health First has said it would pay to demolish the existing buildings, there is no requirement for the district to accept that offer. The district can solicit offers for another health care provider to come in and run the existing facilities or to build new health care facilities on the site.

She also said it was not immediately clear who the property would revert to if the district was dissolved and that she was researching the matter. However, the general rule is that the property would revert to the municipality in which the land lies, Rezanka said.

The hospital site is 52 acres, but most of that is submerged lands, presenting challenges to redeveloping it for another purpose.

The hospital’s location on a low-lying peninsula of reclaimed land in the Banana River means that Health First has to evacuate patients to other facilities when hurricanes threaten the area. One hospital district board member said Health First told him that it cost $5 million to evacuate the hospital earlier this year during Hurricane Dorian.

But even prior to that, Health First was considering the move, Malik said.

Last year Health First was considering upgrading the hospital, Malik said he was told by Health First. But the company concluded that it would cost $280 million to do so, and it could build a brand new facility for $250 million.

Rusty Fischer, president of the Cape Canaveral Hospital District, said it is too early to speculate on what will happen with the current hospital facilities. But he said he hoped the new hospital would be a benefit to the community.

“I’ve been there since 1973,” Fischer said of his work with the hospital. “So it’s bittersweet.”

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