There’s no better reward from real estate development than feeling that one has been involved in creating a legacy; something which is for the greater good and that will provide for decades, rather than years. Many of us at the St. Joe Company were privileged to plan and participate in several legacy projects and one of those has recently come to fruition.
Earlier this month, the citizens of Port St. Joe, Florida and its surrounding communities celebrated the opening of the Sacred Heart Hospital On The Gulf, built by Ascension Health with money and land gifted to it by the St Joe Company. While the Company’s contribution was crucial, the financial and emotional support of the local community and the leadership of its politicians were essential in completing the project.
When my family and I arrived in Gulf County in 2000, Port St Joe’s small, privately-managed rural hospital seemed on its last legs. The care of its doctors, nurses and technicians was unimpeachable but the building in which they practiced was outdated and in poor condition. Emergency services were offered when finances allowed. The only consistent sources of emergency treatment were the local paramedics who operated the town’s ambulance service or the large regional hospital almost an hour away.
The response of the St. Joe Company, the largest local landowner and a public company with ambitions to develop it’s beach front property, was to assume a leadership role in improving local health care. The existing hospital was obsolete, its finances murky and its services insufficient to meet the basic needs of the town’s residents and growing number of visitors. The St Joe Company, with enlightened self-interest, deemed a new, properly managed hospital to be the only realistic alternative.
Some local people disagreed, hoping that a band aid would be enough to keep the old hospital open. Various ‘white knights’ arrived in Port St Joe, ready to save the hospital from closure by offering dubious financial remedies that inevitably required considerable additional cash injections from the local tax-payers. As a St Joe Company executive, I witnessed at first hand the unseemly and exploitative side of Florida’s rural healthcare industry as the ‘white knights’ quickly turned out to be sharks preying on the hopes and fears of the local community.
Many in the community realized that an alliance with the St Joe Company and Ascension Health, while contraversial, could provide a realistic alternative to the hucksters. A group of community leaders was assembled, a bus was hired and we all made the trip to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Walton County, ninety or so miles away. The visit was enlightening, emotional and above all, unifying as we toured the facility and listened carefully as doctors and nurses talked about the benefits of high quality, consistent health care delivered in a special place.
That trip took place about five years ago. Much effort has been expended and patience stretched in the intervening years but earlier this month our journey to Walton County yielded more than any of us on the bus could have dared wish for; a brand new hospital for Port St Joe and its surrounding communities, high-skilled rewarding jobs that are attracting back former residents and the individual satisfaction of having helped create a legacy for later generations.