Unstoppable train

By the time the Enloe Medical Center expansion reached the Chico City Council last week, it had the momentum of a fast-moving freight train. Nothing was going to stop it or even slow it down much. Certainly few people took seriously the proposal that Enloe build a completely new hospital elsewhere. The need for an upgraded hospital is too great, and it was too late to start over.

That wasn’t the case in 1997, when Enloe announced it had decided to sell rather than develop its 250-acre Bruce Road site and instead expand its Esplanade campus. That was when scrutiny of the decision should have begun. As we now realize, there were many reasons—helicopter noise, traffic, impact on a historic neighborhood, accessibility to the freeway—for possibly building the hospital elsewhere. Unfortunately, they were not examined at the time, and Enloe was not asked to justify its decision.

To its credit, Enloe has done a good job of adjusting the project to assuage neighbors’ concerns, and some aspects of the expansion—the addition of a park, for example—will enhance the area.

But the current expansion is only a 20-year project. What will happen in 2025 or 2030, when the hospital is expected once again to need to grow? As the current project’s environmental-impact report notes, further expansion is certain to have additional negative impacts on the neighborhood.

Now is the time for the community to begin considering alternatives. An obvious one would be to attract another hospital to the area. Enloe is a wonderful organization, and Chico is fortunate to have a locally governed, nonprofit hospital to meet its needs. But competition is always good, and a second hospital could make further Enloe expansion unnecessary.

Let’s not wait until the train is at full speed again to consider taking other routes.