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Marion hospitals compete for Citrus patients

Two new medical facilities don't see the county line as a barrier to more business.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

OCALA -- Two gleaming new medical facilities in Marion County -- one a hospital, the other an emergency medical center that is part of a hospital -- are courting Citrus patients.

This might seem puzzling at first. After all, Citrus has two hospitals of its own, Citrus Memorial and Seven Rivers Community. They offer most, if not all, the services their Marion counterparts do, with more services being added all the time.

In addition, the Marion facilities already have a burgeoning community to serve: Census figures show Marion's population soared 33 percent, to 258,000, during the 1990s. And the growth continues at a brisk pace.

But there are reasons why enticing patients to drive north across the Withlacoochee River -- and expecting that they would actually do so -- isn't so unusual.

History is one such reason. Citrus residents have made that trip for decades, either to access services not available in Citrus (heart surgery, most notably) or because the patients prefer the care they receive beyond the county line.

Geography is the newest reason. The new facilities are on State Road 200 -- not necessarily close to Citrus, but certainly closer and much more convenient to reach than are the hospitals' main campuses in downtown Ocala.

These and other factors have inspired Munroe Regional Medical Center and West Marion Community Hospital (an affiliate of Ocala Regional Medical Center) to continue advertising in Citrus publications and otherwise openly invite Citrus patients to head north for medical care.

Officials with the Marion facilities say they already are viable options for Citrus patients; the new facilities, they believe, can only bolster their opportunity to gain market share.

Munroe's new emergency center is 6.5 miles north of the county line, and it already is attracting Citrus patients: During the center's first five months, 7 percent of the patients were from Citrus, hospital records showed.

Munroe says, thanks to its new facility, it is now the closest full-service health system for at least half the Citrus population. Patients at the new center who must be admitted to the hospital are sent to Munroe's downtown campus.

West Marion Community Hospital is 14 miles from the Citrus border. It opened in September. Although exact statistics are not available, West Marion already has welcomed many Citrus patients, officials there said.

Cheryl Deamer-Boykin, West Marion's administrator, said some Citrus doctors have inquired about obtaining admitting privileges. The hospital bylaws require the doctors' main residence and practice be within 30 miles of the campus -- no problem for many Citrus physicians.

Many other Citrus patients already visit Ocala doctors who are on the hospital staff.

Munroe considered the region as a whole, not just Marion County, when it sought a site for its new facility. Munroe eventually chose a large tract on SR 200 just north of Marion County Road 484.

"What we looked at was growth in the area," said Erl Piscitelli, vice president for corporate development at Munroe.

Marion County is Munroe's primary service area, "but we recognize that people drive over county lines," she said.

West Marion took a similar approach. It has always counted Citrus among the areas it serves, and officials believe the hospital site -- farther from the Citrus border than is the Munroe facility, but still well outside downtown Ocala -- is accessible for Citrus residents.

"It (proximity to Citrus) was always in mind" during site selection, Deamer-Boykin said.

West Marion is a full hospital, with 70 beds and state-of-the-art equipment. There is plenty of room for expansion.

Munroe's emergency center has 12 suites and a full laboratory, not to mention a radiology facility that serves the emergency room and outpatients. The structure some day will house a same-day surgery wing, and there are plans to build a full hospital.

According to state records, 8.6 percent of Citrus residents' hospital stays were at Munroe Regional Medical Center during 2001-02. The figure was 4 percent for Ocala Regional.

The figures do not reflect emergency room visits.

Citrus Memorial Hospital, which declined comment for this story, previously has said it expects the number of Citrus patients heading to Ocala to decline once Citrus Memorial opens its new adult heart surgery center in 2004.

Citrus patients currently have no choice but to visit Ocala, or other nearby cities, for those services. Once given the option to stay closer to home, many certainly will do so, Citrus Memorial officials have said.

Seven Rivers, meanwhile, isn't ceding a bit of the market share to the Marion hospitals. The Crystal River facility said that it also serves out-of-county patients.

"Seven Rivers Community Hospital has been dedicated to providing health care services to Citrus, southern Marion and Levy counties for 25 years. Our commitment to the community is longstanding," chief executive officer Don McKenna said.

He also noted that Seven Rivers has expanded its services in recent years and maintains a strong community presence through education programs, donations and sponsorships.

None of that seems to faze officials at Munroe or West Marion/Ocala Regional.

They believe Citrus' more critical heart surgery patients still might opt for treatment at one of their facilities. And they maintain that other factors -- from the doctors available in Marion County to the quality of the new facilities to the amenities they offer -- will make a favorable impression on Citrus patients.

The buildings themselves are attractive. Each has plenty of parking near the entrance and beautiful new furniture and medical equipment.

Larry Bush, marketing director at West Marion, proudly notes that all the hospital's rooms are private.

"The "soft' things really do make a difference," he said.

More than anything, Marion officials said, their new facilities give patients more options when making health-care decisions.

"It gives the citizens another choice," Deamer-Boykin said.

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