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Hospitals change to suit market

Small, outdated facilities aren't enough to keep up with rising costs, hospitals say.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

For many of Pasco County's hospitals, the cures for rising costs and diminishing government reimbursements came in the form of bricks and mortar in 2002.

North Bay and Community hospitals got the state's permission to leave New Port Richey for Trinity.

East Pasco Medical Center got permission to build an open-heart surgery wing and cemented plans for a hospital in Wesley Chapel, in partnership with University Community Hospital in Tampa.

Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, where 40 percent of admissions come from Pasco County, asked the state for permission to build an open-heart program.

All Children's Hospital broke ground on a new facility near Trouble Creek Road.

"A lot of it had to do with the hospitals understanding that they have to move where the market is," said Elizabeth Rugg, executive director of the Suncoast Health Planning Council.

They want to be near "the fastest-growing population areas, people who are going to consume their services through insurance, and that's the younger families who have the employer-based insurance," she said.

Officials from North Bay and Community both told the state that they needed to move because their current facilities were too small and outdated. In order to serve the sick better, they needed to build state-of-the-art facilities. Both hospitals want to move to separate plots of land they own in the Trinity area, and leave in about five years. The hospitals are "trying to survive like everyone else," Rugg said. "They're trying to provide some niche services, and services that will provide higher return and give them a higher profile in the community." But, she added, "quite often that leads to the lower-income patients are kind of disenfranchised from them and don't have access to care."

That was the cry of New Port Richey, which protested Community's and North Bay's moves. New Port Richey stands to lose its biggest taxpayer and its two biggest employers if the hospitals move. The city argued that they were abandoning the poor and the elderly by moving away from them.

In Zephyrhills, East Pasco Medical Center got the okay to go ahead with an $11.7-million open-heart surgery unit, which is due for completion in the fall of 2005. Up until now, east Pasco residents have had to go to either Tampa or Hudson for such surgeries.

The medical center also is planning a big push into Wesley Chapel, with plans for a seven-story hospital, plus a medical office and outpatient care complex on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that it hopes to open in three or four years.

That proposal still needs state approval. The medical offices, planned for 19 acres that the hospital already owns on Bruce B. Downs just south of State Road 54, are expected to open next year.

Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs also asked the state for permission to build an open-heart wing. If approved, the wing would be the only hospital offering that service to west Pasco residents between Hudson and Clearwater.

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