Watch this Sunday morning's edition of "Naples Daily NewsMakers with Jeff Lytle" at 10 on ABC7 for an interview with Richard Akin, chief executive officer of the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, and Blake Gable, president of Barron Collier Cos. The video will be available at naplesnews.com/newsmakers on Monday.
COLLIER COUNTY — Residents of Golden Gate Estates, Ave Maria and Immokalee travel an hour for hospital-based medical care but a local developer and a health-care leader are exploring the potential of a new hospital in eastern Collier County.
Blake Gable, president of Barron Collier Cos., and Richard Akin, chief executive officer of the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, began talking more than a year ago about the lack of accessible hospital care in eastern Collier.
"We conducted a study that basically says there is a need. We haven't gone much further," Akin said. "There's no after-hours care and, even for a simple emergency, you have to travel all the way to Naples or Fort Myers. The community, we think, needs some sort of facility out there."
Akin, whose nonprofit Healthcare Network operates outpatient clinics in Immokalee and greater Naples, said there's been no determination of how many beds would be pursued.
"We don't know yet. It certainly won't be a large facility but we want it to serve all the people," Akin said, referring to a general acute-care hospital with an emergency room.
The hospital would want to serve the Medicaid and Medicare populations, besides commercially insured, and Akin pointed out that a significant number of Immokalee and nearby residents are uninsured.
A detailed certificate-of-need application must be submitted to the state Agency for Healthcare Administration, which must address the number of beds sought, patient volume projections, financial viability and a host of other information for the state's consideration to approve or deny a hospital license. Competitors can object and that can lead to lengthy legal proceedings.
The hospital concept is in very early stages, the first phase was the study, and the next phase is gauging interest among physicians in the community and anyone else in eastern Collier who is interested, Gable said.
A location for a proposed hospital has not been determined, but Gable said there's no question that a hospital will be built at some point in eastern Collier. He wants to be ahead of the process rather than getting a late start two years from now.
Barron Collier is a major agriculture interest and landholder in eastern Collier and is the developer of the town of Ave Maria. In Naples, the firm developed Grey Oaks, Mercato, and several shopping centers.
"This is going to be a long process," Gable said. "The community has been out there underserved for decades. We are really starting to reach out to the physician community in the next couple of weeks."
Barron Collier also held a key role in the controversial Jackson Laboratory project in 2010 and was prepared to donate 50 acres near Ave Maria to the Maine-based genetics research lab. Jackson officials dropped their efforts for a branch research center when Collier residents cried foul over being asked to provide $130 million in local tax dollars to match state money.
Jackson Lab supporters, including Barron Collier, envisioned a broader medical village developing near Ave Maria, with Jackson as an anchor, that would spur new jobs and establish another economic foundation beyond tourism, real estate, and construction.
Gable said Wednesday the hospital proposal is not an effort to revive the medical village concept.
Newly elected Collier County Commissioner Tim Nance, who represents eastern Collier, learned of the hospital proposal last week. He sees it as creating opportunities for everyone in Collier, not just for residents in the eastern areas, and good for the economy.
"Certainly there is a need for all (types of) facilities in eastern Collier where growth is projected," Nance said. "We clearly have a lot of opportunities for synergies in health care. It is nothing but a tremendous opportunity. I hope it can move forward as rapidly as possible."
A University of Florida projection says eastern Collier's population will reach 300,000 to 400,000 at build out, although when that will occur is not known, Nance said.
"It's clear that most of the growth will be in the eastern portion of the county, the population will more than double," Nance said, adding that he is upbeat about the hospital proposal. "We will just have to see how it plays out."
Collier now has four hospitals with a total of 916 beds. Downtown Naples and North Naples hospitals are run by the NCH Healthcare System with a combined 715 beds. Physicians Regional Healthcare System operates Physicians Regional-Pine Ridge and Physicians Regional-Collier Boulevard with a combined 201 beds. The 212,000-square-foot Collier Boulevard hospital cost $75 million to build.
The two Physicians Regional hospitals, owned by the Naples-based Health Management Associates, are the nearest to some eastern Collier residents while some local residents may live closer to Lehigh Regional Medical Center in eastern Lee County, also an HMA hospital.
Todd Lupton, chief executive officer of Physicians Regional, gave an upbeat reaction to a proposed new hospital.
"If a hospital were to open in East Collier, I would hope it be done appropriately to provide high quality services to the residents of its immediate location," Lupton said in a statement.
Other eastern Collier residents may use Gulf Coast Medical Center in central Fort Myers, which is owned by the Lee Memorial Health System. Akin is chairman of the Lee Memorial board but said his role in the new hospital is tied to his position with the Collier-based Health Network.
Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of NCH, doesn't see a need for a new hospital based on a current bed formula and because more medical care is going to outpatient levels. In addition, he said a hospital needs to be at least 100 beds to justify related medical support and to ensure quality care.
The current bed formula shows 1.2 beds are needed for every 1,000 people, Weiss said. If Collier's year-round population is 400,000 and it increases by 150,000 in the winter, then 660 beds are what's needed at peak season and there are now 916 beds, he said.
NCH hospitals have 75 percent of the Collier market and has some excess capacity, which means more hospital beds are not needed, he said.
"A few days a year we get backed up, we rarely divert (patients) and Physicians Regional has excess capacity," Weiss said.
When asked if he was surprised to learn of the hospital proposal, Weiss said he was surprised Gable and Akin had not come to NCH to inquire about what's happening in the local market.
"All the care is going outpatient anyway," he said, adding that bringing in more beds dilutes quality and drives up costs. "Why be adding to the current costs of health care? You can't have a hospital at every corner. It just doesn't work. There are whole areas of the country that are rural (and don't have a hospital)."