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EMAA director explains halt on former MARMC building plans

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EMAA director explains the halt on MARMC plans

Keri McCrorey, executive director of East Missouri Action Agency, recently explained pulling out of the $2 million CDBG grant. Here, she addresses the Farmington City Council in 2020 about taking over management of the Farmington OAKS Senior Center. EMAA has since opened a homeless shelter nearby, and the grant would have helped turn a former hospital into a one-stop-shop for underserved people.

The director of East Missouri Action Agency, Keri McCrorey, on Wednesday explained why the organization pulled out of a $2 million Community Development Block Grant that would have opened the former Mineral Area Regional Medical Center in Farmington as a one-stop health center for those in need.

The decision had been announced briefly at the Sept. 13 meeting of the St. Francois County Commission, since the county auditor’s office was used to apply for the grant back in the spring. The auditor’s office would have overseen the financial execution of the grant, while EMAA would have administered the grant.

Through St. Francois County Auditor’s Office, East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) was one of 41 communities getting a statewide total of $41 million through Community Development Block Grants for COVID-19 projects (CDBG-CV). It was announced in June. EMAA had received the building as a gift from local businessman Sharo Shirshekan, who continued to join EMAA in the renovation and repurposing project.

“We were at a point in the grant process when EMAA had to take over the building from the donor, and there were just some pieces that were not in place. It was not financially savvy for us to take it over without having a couple of the pieces in place,” McCrorey said Wednesday, adding that the plans would have included a skilled nursing facility, an assisted living facility and a mental health hospital that would serve as financial anchors for the project.

“Without those three pieces in place, it wouldn’t have been a good financial decision for us to take on a project that would cost the agency several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain,” she said. “One of the commitments I made early on was, I would not put this agency at risk for a project of that magnitude. And without having those financial anchors, we just couldn't make that work.”

Another consideration had to do with the building complex itself. McCrorey said, there’s one heating and cooling system for the entire building. “And so when you turn the heating and cooling on, you have to heat and cool the entire building. The utility bills alone were going to be three quarters of a million dollars a year,” she said.

No grant money was spent on the project, McCrorey said.

“We never received cash in hand of $2 million. You get the approval letter that says you have been approved for $2 million, but there was not one dime of that money spent,” she said. “Because the pieces didn’t fall in place in the timeframe we needed and the money had to be totally allocated by June 2023 — and we still hadn’t confirmed operators of the skilled nursing piece or the mental hospital piece — we let the Department of Economic Development know we were letting the grant go. Which, I had heard there were many, many deserving projects out there, so I’m glad the money will be well-used.”

McCrorey said there were other benefits from the effort.

“Our staff has learned a lot more, so the professional development has been wonderful,” she said, “but our partnerships with the organizations we’d been working with on the project — we work with all community organizations and health care organizations all the time, but working together on a project of this magnitude deepened the networking and the relationships. We might even be able to partner on future grants together. I think that it’s been a good thing.”

The 43,000 square-foot hospital building on Weber Road in Farmington is still owned by Shirshekan, who owns several nursing homes in the state and has gifted many renovated buildings — even a fire truck — to municipal and charitable entities over the years. Shirshekan bought the vacant MARMC building in 2017 from BJC, which had purchased the competing hospital back in 2015 and closed it nine months later.

Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or shaas@dailyjournalonline.com.

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