GRACEVILLE - All members of the Campbellton-Graceville Hospital Board of Trustees exhaled a solemn sigh of relief after voting unanimously to approve the sale of the hospital property.

The vote came during a public hearing held Monday night at Campbellton-Graceville Hospital, 5429 College Drive, in Graceville.

"We live in a small community, where you rely on your neighbors in tough times. And what we did, we reached out to our neighbor," said Trustee Chris Jernigan, who made the motion for the final approval of the resolution to sale the property to Chipley-based Northwest Florida Community Hospital.

"Our neighbor stepped up and helped us out and will carry us on to the future."

The approval of the resolution served as the final hurdle for the district to return much needed medical services back to the community.

The hospital closed down a few years ago and filed for bankruptcy, which involved about $120 million in claims. Most of the claims were in relation to insurance companies that had asserted claims for alleged over-billing related to a lab processing scheme, according to the hospital’s bankruptcy lawyer Brian Rich of Berger Singerman, a business law firm out of Tallahassee.

The scheme hit a number of rural hospitals across the country.

"We were at our wits end on what we were going to do, how were we going to continue some kind of health care," Jernigan said. "We were losing $400,000 a month. We couldn't continue going - to keep the clinic open or anything."

"So, we made a meeting with Mr. Kozar and we talked about it for a couple of hours," he added. "His people responded with 'they need help, they need health care in that community, let's go and help them.'"

The process of acquiring the property has been a lengthy one - with the CGH Board more than two years ago brainstorming on ways to retain medical services, and NFCH diligently working for a little over a year with the CGH trustees, state legislators and legal and financial teams to acquire the property.

NFCH CEO Michael Kozar counted Monday's approval of the resolution for sale as "critical."

"There's some anxiety when your starting a new venture that we're undertaking here, but we feel very fortunate that we can be a part of the community here and to be able to grow the right services that are needed, not only for Graceville, but for the whole region and we're excited about taking on this new venture," Kozar said.

On Tuesday, the entities met at bankruptcy court to approve the transfer of deed and the hospital's state license to NFCH. The license, though having no real value, will enable NFCH to have medical beds for the detoxification program it is looking to establish at the soon-to-be repurposed facility. NFCH also plans to include a geriatric wing.

"We've been working on this for over a year now and we're finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, as far as being able to make this a reality," Kozar said. "And it's exciting."

In addition to the aforementioned programs, NFCH will lease - at a nominal rate, according to Kozar - one of the buildings to Jackson County for an emergency medical services (EMS) station. Currently, the county's EMS division operates out of a trailer, officials said.

The EMS station will open as soon as the sale is closed - which will be in about two weeks, according to the attorney - and the appropriate renovations are done to the building.

"We felt it was very important, if they needed the location, that we could accommodate them," Kozar said. "We've very excited about that because it helps us and the citizens of Graceville to continue to expand services in the future. Having an EMS station here that will be able to respond to that need."

Kozar also added that the EMS station would work well with the existing program proposals, allowing patients who need more intense medical attention to be transported to NFCH in Chipley. Also, the station would be in close proximity to local schools, athletic events, the college campus, sawmill, nursing home and clinic.

"I feel good - we hate it had to happen - but I feel good that there still will be some medical stuff going on in the hospital and I thank the Chipley hospital for coming and helping us forward," said Trustee Patrick Pelham. 

The fair market value of the property is $485,765.75, according to the resolution. The approval eliminated ad valorem for taxpayers in the district.

"Our objective was to get this off the tax roll and get his into the hands of someone who provides health care for a living - and that's what we've done," Jernigan said.