Plans to move Griffin Memorial Hospital to Oklahoma City are in the works, and stakeholders are courting the state’s mental health agency with land and cash to make that happen, The Transcript has learned.
Oklahoma County Commissioners on Tuesday approved $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the move if the agency relocates the hospital to that county.
The 120-bed facility, which has been in Norman for 100 years, is operated by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Agency spokesperson Jeffrey Dismukes said Wednesday plans to relocate the hospital have not been finalized nor has a timeline.
“There are several communities which have expressed interest when we talk about a new hospital,” Dismukes told The Transcript. “Oklahoma City is one of those.
“In some cases, the efforts by philanthropic groups and others to help support construction have been made. So, obviously those are factors we’re going to consider.”
At stake is a $90 million tax advantage for the community that would call the hospital home, agency spokesperson Heath Hayes told Oklahoma County commissioners Tuesday.
The move would include a “huge economic benefit” which will add 223 jobs and “$90 million in terms of taxes generated from those new jobs and the cost of deterring people from the emergency room,” Hayes told the commission.
Hayes said the agency considered a “possible” move after Oklahoma State Unviersity-Oklahoma City offered free land and several foundations offered their support.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in Oklahoma County,” Hayes said. “And a lot of interest from family foundations, the city of Oklahoma City and other potential partners.
“OSU-OKC has been willing to deed us some land, potentially here in Oklahoma City north of Reno, south of OSU-OKC. The cost to move and to prepare that land to build a new hospital is about $10 million.”
Hayes added the state agency is within $1.5 million “of securing that $10 million to be able to make that move in that decision.”
There was an attempt
City Manager Darrel Pyle, in an email to The Transcript on Wednesday, said he understood “why the State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services had to give the land incentive serious consideration.”
“I had several conversations with Mr. (Durand) Crosby on the subject,” Pyle said. “The decision was very much a business decision based on the population being served by the department. Access to the site, and a variety of support services could not be matched here in Norman.”
Crosby is chief of staff and operations for the state mental health agency.
Cleveland County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said he has spoken with the agency over the years about its plans for the land and a new hospital, but those plans frequently changed.
“I’d get conflicting stories from the Department of Mental Health, too, as to what they want,” said Cleveland, commission chairman. “I think it’s just a matter of there are people that want it and either they want to consolidate in Oklahoma City as the location, or I also heard they were looking at Stillwater and Tulsa. and then they have this land at OSU-OKC.”
Cleveland said he would be disappointed to see the facility go.
“It would be beneficial to Norman, but I don’t know what else we can do,” he said.
Mayor Larry Heikkila said while a potential move is was concerning news, the city has taken steps to determine what to do with the land if Griffin chooses to leave or sell its campus.
“We’ve heard rumors of this over the past few years,” Heikkila said. “In fact, the city commissioned a land use survey through the Urban Land Institute to explore their suggestions for best use, if Griffin moved.
“Although I rue the loss of the jobs, and the hospital which has been a mainstay here in Norman, we must also be prepared for change.”
In April, plans to move the homeless shelter to the Griffin Memorial complex near Main Street and Reed Avenue were scrapped when the agency told the city it would need to sell “most if not all” its land and buildings to construct a new mental health hospital.
The mayor said he sees a silver lining when the property comes up for sale.
“The idea that a city the size of Norman would have a large area of land available for development in its core area is very exciting,” he said. “The city might have an opportunity to buy the Griffin property. That would change a potentially bad situation into a great opportunity for Norman.”
The city is undergoing a study for its land use and transportation policies, and has contracted with Strong Towns, an organization that helps communities rethink zoning and other land use policies to create economically stronger cities.
“Providentially, we are beginning the Strong Towns revisioning process as this possible Griffin move is coming to light,” Heikkila said. “So either way, move or no move; Norman will benefit.”
Dismukes said at the end of the day, the agency must consider what is best for its patients and the state to guide its decision.
“When that decision is made, it’s going to be based on what’s best for the people we serve in the state as a whole, for our employees,” he said. “There’s going to be multiple factors considered for the most benefit to clients, staff and our intent to be a national leader in mental health.”
The new facility would increase the number of available beds to 330 with 275 beds for adults and 55 for adolescents, Dismukes said.
In September, the state Legislature approved $87 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the new hospital. According to the legislature’s statement at the time, the hospital would be completed by 2026.