Residents in LaFayette, Georgia, and surrounding areas of Walker County have concerns over a proposed health care campus that could be built in their neck of the woods.
Michael Allen Hicks is worried about possible flooding and how traffic will be controlled on the narrow and winding Burnt Mill Road that borders his property.
Randy Chandler is concerned about building trust, because it's easy to lose it but very difficult to earn it, he said.
Jim Burns is worried about the security and safety of the surrounding community, echoing dozens of Walker County residents who voiced their concerns for nearly two hours at a town hall meeting Wednesday about a proposed integrated health care campus that could be built in LaFayette.
Healthy Foundations, a nonprofit organization, wants to build a multi-million-dollar campus on 374 acres in Walker County. The project is a collaboration between Healthy Foundations and the North Georgia Healthcare Center and is being spearheaded by DeLaine Hunter and Terry Tucker.
After Hunter, Tucker and other partners ran into land access issues in Catoosa County for a similar project, they had to back out of the plan in that county. The project also met with some public backlash from residents who worried the Catoosa County campus was too close to Tiger Creek Elementary School in Tunnel Hill, Georgia.
Hunter and Tucker spent several town hall meetings last year pushing back against misconceptions that convicted felons, drug addicts, sex offenders and others will be part of the programs offered by Healthy Foundations. They did so again Wednesday night.
"We are not a drug rehabilitation center or a mental health facility," Tucker said. "The people who will be coming to our campus are people that want to be there."
Hunter said the campus — focused on housing, health care, education and jobs — will have a strict referral process for patients. That means people will need to be referred in order to receive services and quickly will be referred elsewhere if a patient needs help with something Healthy Foundations does not provide.
The main contention people have with the proposed campus is security. Hunter and Tucker spent most of the night trying to reassure Walker County residents the campus will have its own security team, a high-tech security system with facial recognition cameras and other gadgets while also being an aesthetically inviting place.
Of the 378 acres of campus, only five acres will be considered heavily guarded with tall fences and extra security. That's where drug screening and evaluations will take place for intake, Tucker said.
The sprawling campus is being built to give affordable health care and housing to veterans, help young people aging out of foster care and assist families and individuals with physical and mental medical assistance. It will include a health care and counseling center, an independent living area with supportive services and workforce and youth development opportunities. It would also feature an "innovative Veterans Village to serve the unique behavioral health and housing needs of area service members," according to a company news release.
The 1,200-bed facility will create an estimated 250 jobs, most filled from Walker and the surrounding counties, Tucker said. He stressed the importance of wanting to hire locally and serve people from Walker, Dade, Catoosa and Chattooga counties.
Burns, whose property borders the proposed campus, told the Times Free Press after the meeting he didn't feel the security concerns were addressed as thoroughly as he would have liked. He also said he doesn't feel like the cameras and other security gadgets will work as effectively as Healthy Foundations thinks.
Chandler said he was most concerned with how the campus has been thrust upon the community without much input, he said. He and Tucker had a candid back-and-forth exchange in front of the crowded room, and Tucker eventually apologized for not meeting with every neighbor the campus would directly affect.
"That was an error on our part," he said. "We made a mistake."
Tucker said that after meeting with some elected officials, business leaders and after the property was purchased, things moved quicker than he and Hunter had anticipated and the community should have been involved in the earlier stages.
Chandler told the Times Free Press some of his concerns were eased after the two-hour meeting, but there's still a ways to go.
"There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered," he said. "This is not about being against people getting the help and support they need. This is about building trust with the community."
The next town hall meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28. For more information on the proposed campus, visit facebook.com/HealthyFoundationsGA.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.