After a more than two-hour hearing Thursday, members of the Washington Board of Appeals affirmed a decision by City Administrator Jim Briggs to grant an occupancy permit to Patients First Health Care for a three-bed hospital building.

The city’s building department approved the certificate of occupancy earlier this year, but in April St. John’s Mercy Health System appealed that decision which led to the hearing Thursday evening before the appeals board.

Mercy has the option now to appeal the board’s decision to a Franklin County circuit judge for a decision.

The hearing was transcribed by a court reporter and testimony was presented by all three parties — the city, Mercy and Patients First — before the board withdrew to deliberate and render its decision to uphold Briggs’ ruling.

At issue was whether the new hospital meets access requirements pertaining to earthquake, or seismic, standards as required by international building codes adopted by the city.

Steve Cockriel, an attorney representing the city, explained that there was no basis for revoking the occupancy permit. He noted that the building codes require an operational access which the hospital has on the southeast side. Additional access points from the Patients First medical office building and on the north side of the hospital, under a canopy, are not required to meet the seismic standards in the building codes, Cockriel said.

The canopy, however, has a class three seismic rating, it was noted.

Paul Puricelli, an attorney representing Mercy Health Systems, asked Briggs during cross examination if the city referred to Missouri Health and Senior Services regulations in reviewing the hospital construction plans.

“They were not adopted by the city and do not pertain,” Briggs replied.

Puricelli, in addressing the board, argued that many of the functions for the hospital would be handled through the medical office building and therefore that building must meet the state’s seismic three rating as well as the hospital.

He repeatedly referred to state requirements for services and personnel that must be maintained in the hospital, but those standards are not part of the city’s building codes.

Cockriel stressed that the board’s role is to determine if the (hospital) building meets the building code seismic three requirements. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hospital or a fire station.”

“You’re charged with enforcing the building codes,” John Hessel, attorney for Patients First, told board members. “With all due respect, the state codes are not the issue.”

Hessel said Mercy was attempting to distract the board from that issue.

“It’s incumbent on Mercy to convince you the staff was wrong (in issuing the occupancy permit),” Hessel said. “They haven’t come close.

“Mercy is trying to divert you from the building codes and get you over to state regulations,” Hessel told the board. “Your role is to determine whether or not the city (staff) correctly interpreted the building codes. It did.”

Two architects and a professional engineer also were called to testify.

“Your function is not to decide if the state’s done its job,” Cockriel said. “It’s solely to decide whether this facility was properly issued a permit.”

It was noted that while Patients First was granted a certificate of need for the three-bed hospital, the facility still is under review for state licensing.

Kurt Unnerstall, board chairman, abstained from the discussion and vote, stating that he is a member of Mercy’s foundation board.