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Rival objects to Wesley Chapel hospital

Community Hospital, which is building a facility 30 minutes away in Trinity, argues that Wesley Chapel is too close for a competing hospital.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published May 19, 2006


Firing the opening salvo of a looming hospital war, Community Hospital chief executive officer Kathryn Gillette told the St. Petersburg Times Thursday she would file formal objections to bids from three rival hospitals to set up in Wesley Chapel.

Regardless of its outcome, Gillette's challenge could allow Community Hospital to consolidate market share while tying up potential Wesley Chapel competitors in years of legal wrangling.

University Community Hospital, Adventist Health System and BayCare Health System are awaiting the state's decision on their applications to build acute-care facilities in Wesley Chapel. The ruling is expected in mid June.

"We would object to anything in Pasco County until we know where it's going to go," Gillette said. "We're not going to run the risk of (our new hospital) being underutilized. This hospital is too expensive. We need an opportunity to recoup that investment."

Community Hospital, which now operates in New Port Richey, is building a 236-bed, $200-million facility in Trinity. Its new hospital is expected to be completed in June 2008.

Gillette said she has informally voiced objections to the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates the creation of new hospitals through the certificate of need process. She said she plans to file a formal objection soon.

Gillette sees the Trinity facility as the center of a customer base covering Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

She includes Wesley Chapel - about a half-hour drive from Trinity - in the hospital's current and future market.

"Wesley Chapel is a great and growing area, and we believe we will continue to see patients from that area," she said.

The Wesley Chapel area - estimated to build out at 33,000 homes with median incomes double those in west Pasco - is increasingly a battleground for market rivalries.

Gillette's comments caught some competitors off guard.

"It's just surprising," said Jerry Sterner, a spokesman for Adventist, which operates Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. "If you put a dot on Trinity and a dot on Wesley Chapel, you'll see it's a long way. If I were a resident of Wesley Chapel, I sure wouldn't want to go to a hospital in Trinity. We certainly hope the state of Florida will honor our application."

BayCare, a veteran of past hospital battles, expects to dig in.

"We know we have lots of support from the community," said spokeswoman Lisa Patterson. "We believe we need to be there (in Wesley Chapel) as the area grows."

When BayCare applied to build St. Joseph's Hospital North in Lutz, it took four years of fighting objections from Tampa General Hospital and University Community Hospital before BayCare finally won state approval in early 2006, Patterson said.

In the Wesley Chapel case, Community Hospital's objections could occupy its rivals for years at the state Division of Administrative Hearings - and those objections may not even be the only hurdle.

"The state could decide for one or two (of the current Wesley Chapel bids), though I think it's unlikely they would permit three," Patterson said. "Those who are denied could then appeal that decision."

UCH's chief operating officer, Sandra Williams, said any health service provider in the area has a right to file objections.

"It happens all the time," she said. "We feel the merits of our application and benefits to the community of Wesley Chapel will far outweigh any objections posed by Community Hospital of New Port Richey."

Chuin-Wei Yap covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at 813 909-4613 or e-mail cyap@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 19, 2006, 03:00:21]


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