Hospitals provoke appeals cross-fire
By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
Ever since two New Port Richey hospitals said they wanted to move to Trinity, just north of the Pinellas-Pasco line, there has been protest.
Now, as the deadline looms to formally appeal those moves, those with a stake in the outcome -- including two hospitals in North Pinellas -- are starting to show their cards.
Some protest because they're competitors.
Some protest because their competitors are protesting.
Some protest even though it's too late.
Some are keeping their protest options open.
Administrators at Community, Mease Countryside and Helen Ellis Memorial hospitals said Wednesday they plan to make some sort of appeal to the state's decision to let Community and North Bay hospitals move to Trinity.
And state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, who can't legally appeal the decision at this point, wants in on the action, too.
Who has a legal right to appeal? Hospitals in Pinellas and Pasco counties that think they'll be affected by Community's and North Bay's moves and other hospitals that have asked the state for permission to add beds or to move. Those appeals are due Friday and go to the state's Division of Administrative Hearings, which has the power to overturn the earlier approval by the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Officials at Mease Countryside, a 144-bed hospital on McMullen Booth Road south of Curlew Road, said they planned to appeal. They say the moves are unnecessary, particularly in light of Mease's own expansion plans.
"The Trinity area is a significant part of our current service area, and we don't think that there's a need in the area for another hospital," said Matt Novak, a spokesman for the Mease Countryside Hospital. The hospital is in the midst of a $70-million expansion that, in 2004, will add 51 acute care beds and relocate an obstetrics unit and a 10-bed neonatal intensive care unit there from its Mease Dunedin hospital.
Mease has a partnership with Morton Plant, which owns North Bay. That means that the hospitals share administrative, accounting, personnel and other functions but are not fully merged. They are required to compete, and they do their own marketing, strategic planning, pricing and negotiating of managed care contracts.
Bill Jennings, North Bay's chief operating officer, said his hospital's move would have little to no impact on Countryside.
"Countryside offers an array of different hospital services than North Bay at Trinity will offer, and that needs to be considered," he said.
Jennings said that if North Bay decided to appeal Community's move, it wouldn't do so until Friday afternoon.
At Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs, where 40 percent of admissions come from Pasco, the board has also decided to appeal the state's decision.
At Community Hospital, chief executive Ernie Meier said he planned to appeal North Bay's move because he had heard that other hospitals were planning to appeal his own hospital's move.
"To protect our interests, on a defensive mode, we'll (file an appeal) and then proceed," Meier said. "If we're wrong and Friday comes and goes and nobody (else) has (appealed), then we'll withdraw."
While the hospitals were carefully plotting appeals, Fiorentino was trying to get her objections to the state, even though her deadline to do so already had passed. Fiorentino, a Republican from New Port Richey, said there had been a misunderstanding between her staff and state officials over her deadline to appeal. Fiorentino said that Dr. Rhonda Meadows, the secretary of AHCA, had toured the hospitals' current and proposed sites Tuesday with Fiorentino. She also said Meadows had agreed to take a report outlining Fiorentino's concerns about the moves.
Fiorentino said she understood that the public's deadline had passed for her to formally appeal the process.
"But I want them to understand the negative impact that it's going to have on the residents in the area," Fiorentino said Wednesday. "Maybe one of those hospitals should be able to relocate -- it's a booming area and those people need health care. But to allow both hospitals to move would have an extremely negative impact on the quality of health care that our citizens will be provided."
In Fiorentino's report, she includes a list of nursing homes and assisted living facilities that surround Community and North Bay's current sites, pictures of the roads that lead into the hospitals' current and future sites, and lists of the 192 doctors with offices near Community, and the 40 doctors that are near North Bay.
AHCA spokeswoman Kim Reed said staff at her agency will examine Fiorentino's materials and formally decide whether her appeal has legal standing.
"Although it will not carry the same weight," Reed said, "we will review it and take it into consideration to see if there are any ways to address the health care needs of the populations if the facilities are to move."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks