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A Times Editorial

County needs both hospitals

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002

The probable has become the inevitable for HCA, the parent company of Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill.

A state administrative law judge last week rejected Oak Hill's contention that its competitor in Hernando County, Brooksville Regional Hospital, should not be allowed to move closer to Spring Hill. Judge Eleanor M. Hunter's decision clears the way for the state Agency for Health Care Administration to impose its initial approval of Brooksville Regional's relocation three miles west of the city.

The ruling also signals -- at least we are hopeful it will -- the end to a drawn-out, divisive and often emotional dispute that has tarnished both hospitals' reputations by reminding residents that for health care corporations, money still trumps medicine.

Instead of appealing the judge's decision in court, which could take several months and further delay the construction of Brooksville Regional, Oak Hill CEO Jaime Wesolowski said Friday his company will accept the decision.

That pledge is welcome news. Both hospitals' patients are losing patience with the seemingly endless delays and are anxious for both to expedite planned improvements to their facilities and services.

Oak Hill has received approval to build a much-needed and long-awaited heart surgery center. Brooksville Regional, after initially objecting, finally dropped its opposition to the heart center. At the same time, the community is eager for Brooksville Regional, which touted the run-down condition of its existing building as justification for getting the new one approved, to deliver on its promise of a state-of-the-art facility that will be accessible to more patients.

Residents, particularly on the less populous east side of the county, should be pleased that the judge's review did not support Oak Hill's contention that travel time for ambulances to the new hospital would be significantly affected. At the same time, it is good news that travel times should decrease for many more residents who live closer to Spring Hill.

Barring any unforeseen events or circumstances, residents can count on this issue being resolved within the next 45 days. As soon as practical after that, we hope Brooksville Regional will break ground on its site at State Road 50 and Lykes-Dublin Road, and Oak Hill will begin construction of its heart center. Hernando County needs them both as soon as possible.

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