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Big providers have big plans ahead

Published February 15, 2004

Hernando County's two biggest health care providers, HCA-The Healthcare Co. and Health Management Associates, plan to continue their growth mode during 2004.

As they grow, other medical services are expected to increase in the county.

The biggest project slated to begin this year is construction of a new Brooksville Regional Hospital about 3 miles west of its current Brooksville location. Health Management Associates, which operates the hospital, broke ground for the $50-million facility at State Road 50 and Lykes Dublin Road on Jan. 21.

Tom Barb, the company's top local executive, said he expected the new hospital to open in late 2005. It will not offer new services immediately, Barb said, but will have the capacity to do so in the future.

"It will be a basic med-surgery hospital," he said.

The company also will put up a medical office building adjacent to the new hospital and lease space to physicians. Barb said he had heard of several doctors moving their practices closer to the site.

Once the hospital is complete, HMA will have to complete its lease with Hernando County, which owns the license for the hospital beds. The company will deed the property to the county, which in turn would seal the 40-year lease already agreed upon.

County officials ultimately will decide what happens with the vacated old hospital building. But HMA plans to assist the county by trying to sell the structure for about six months before leaving, and six months afterward, Barb said.

HMA also operates Spring Hill Regional Hospital for the county, and it plans to increase its programs there, too.

A 28-bed expansion to Spring Hill Regional's surgical wing is under construction and should open in March or April. The state gave the hospital approval for 10 of the beds because the hospital regularly is at or above capacity with patients, Barb said, and company officials expect the state to authorize 10 more soon.

Spring Hill opened its neonatal intensive care unit in late December, and the program will get into full swing this year. The company also is renovating its operating room, and executives are investigating whether to add a third floor to the hospital within the next 18 months, Barb said.

Several physicians and medical service providers are looking to buy land and open offices around Spring Hill Regional, as well.

HMA also operates Pinebrook Regional Medical Center on State Road 50, and has reached an agreement that will allow the Veterans Administration to triple its office space and increase its services in Hernando County.

The deal will bring additional primary care providers to the county for veterans. Other new services will include nutrition and podiatry.

A VA spokesman has said the renovated clinic should be complete in the spring.

HCA has fewer concrete plans for 2004 in Hernando because its leadership is still completing its planning process, said Mickey Smith, who heads Oak Hill Hospital.

One of Oak Hill's primary goals for the year, though, is to get its open-heart surgery center under way. Smith said he is working with HCA corporate leaders to secure the funding needed to build the center.

The architectural drawings are complete, he said, and the hospital remains committed to providing open-heart procedures, which currently are not available in the county.

"As soon as I can get the approvals from corporate, I'll be able to definitively answer," Smith said.

Oak Hill will be reviewing its space needs for the first time in several years, Smith said. Analysts will look at growth in the community population and incidence of disease and illness, he said, and project the numbers out five and 10 years.

"We will use the information to see how much space we need," he said. "We are looking at what the additional bed need is for the community."

The hospital opened a neurosurgery department about a year ago, and a new emergency room late in 2003. Officials will consider next what type of new equipment is needed.

All sorts of enhancements at Oak Hill are "on the platter," Smith said. "We're trying to figure out how much we can eat."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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