Council members were scheduled this week to decide whether to accept a subcommittee’s recommendation to begin negotiations with one potential wellness center operating partner instead of two, as city staff had originally suggested.
In a 4-3 vote, the health and wellness subcommittee opted June 26 to recommend negotiations with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. The measure also passed through the MAPS 3 Oversight Committee.
If a contract is finalized, the first wellness center would become part of the health department’s new Northeast Regional Health and Wellness campus at 2600 N.E. 63rd. Ultimately, city officials plan to build four wellness centers for an estimated $52.3 million.
Panel members discussed whether to include Putnam City Baptist Church as a second potential operating partner but ultimately decided against it. In its application, the church indicated it would sell land from its campus to OKC for the construction of a wellness center and invest the proceeds in a fund to maintain its operation.
Board member Terri Watkins said she could not vote for the church application because she feared church members might try to proselytize to wellness center visitors. Church officials are planning to establish Healthy Living Inc., a secular nonprofit that would operate a wellness center.
“I’m concerned about affiliating with a church,” Watkins said. “It might alienate people, and we need to make it available to all comers.”
Dover questioned if the church proposal could be considered since the paperwork for the nonprofit had not yet been filed.
William Hulse, the church senior pastor, said congregational leaders were disappointed with the decision.
“We spent quite a bit of money on developing the proposal,” Hulse said. “Now, we have to do that all over again.”
In six months, city officials will issue another request for proposals for a second wellness center. Hulse said the church likely will submit another operating partner application.
Addressing Watkins’ concerns, Hulse said Healthy Living, Inc. will operate outside the scope of church and its biblical teachings.
Meanwhile, Dover and newly appointed subcommittee member Larry Weatherford said they did not believe the city should deal with planning and building more than one wellness center at a time.
“I’m suggesting we rank order them,” Dover said.
After the vote, Ward 4 City Councilman Pete White remarked that the panel’s debate should have occurred prior to the MAPS 3 election.
“These are bumps that occur on the way to good things,” he said.
“I do think the council would have a problem swallowing two [centers] at a time, especially with two in north Oklahoma City and none in south Oklahoma City.”
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