OTTUMWA — Records suggest the last time St. Joseph Hospital was sold, in January 2018, the transaction didn’t involve any money changing hands. The same is true of the sale before that. And the one before it.

In fact, the last time a purchase price is listed for the site’s sale was in 1987, when St. Joseph Health & Rehabilitation Center sold the site to Ottumwa Regional Health Center for $1.67 million.

The Wapello County Assessor’s website includes information on each of those transfers, and some of the data suggests a serious issue for the suit brought by Elder Corporation against 312 East Alta Vista LLC, the company set up by Blackbird Investments to for redevelopment of the site.

Elder Corporation claims a $1.58 million unpaid bill relating to work the company did on the demolition last summer. The assessor’s website lists the value of the land at $341,660 and the improvements at $0. If the courts accept Elder’s mechanic’s lien and force the sale, it’s conceivable it would cover only a small portion of the debt.

Even if the site sold for the full value listed, that only covers 21.5 percent of the bill Elder said it is owed.

A total of 11 buildings once occupied the site, including the main hospital. The condition is officially given as “below normal.” Others have described it in more vivid terms. Demolition took about half of the building before it halted. The remnants and piles of debris created by the demolition work remain on the site.

But the sale price of $0 doesn’t mean money wasn’t involved.

Blackbird, acting through the LLC, mortgaged the property. That mortgage was not with a bank, but rather with RCHP-Ottumwa, LLC. That’s the parent company of Ottumwa Regional Health Center: RegionalCare Hospital Partners. They owned St. Joseph.

According to a copy obtained by the Courier, the mortgage “secures credit in the amount of $800,000.00. Loans and advances up to this amount, together with interest, are senior to indebtedness to other creditors under subsequently recorded or filed mortgages and liens … .” Whether that includes the mechanic’s lien filed by Elder Corporation is open to question, given that the Elder contract predates the mortgage.

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.