Hospital hearing for south Lee set for April 23

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Cooperation or conflict for new hospital?

— Southwest Florida residents will get a chance April 23 to voice their opinions about a new hospital potentially getting built in south Lee County.

The Agency for Health Care Administration has scheduled a public hearing at Hodges University in Fort Myers from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, at 4501 Colonial Blvd.

The state received several requests for a hearing from concerned groups so citizens can weigh in on applications that the Lee Memorial Health System and Naples-based Health Management Associates will submit next week. They are competitively vying for a license to build a hospital in the southern part of Lee County and detailed applications are due April 10.

The Lee Memorial hospital board also has scheduled a workshop for April 11 to discuss its application, according to Lee Memorial spokeswoman Mary Briggs.

In February, HMA notified the state that it wants to close its 88-bed hospital in Lehigh Aces and relocate it to the Bonita Springs-Estero area. Although HMA hasn’t disclosed an exact site, a company official has hinted the Alico Road area may be one potential location. HMA will have to include the site in its application next week.

Lee Memorial officials stepped up after HMA announced plans. Lee Memorial wants to build an 80-bed hospital on 33 acres south of Coconut Road and U.S. 41. Lee Memorial purchased the land several years ago with the the intent to build a hospital some day.

Requests for a public hearing came separately from Nicholas Batos, chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders, and Tammy Baker, of Lehigh Acres. The state also received emails from Batos, Baker and from Robert Anderson, of Lehigh Acres, who wants a hearing in Lehigh.

The state agency has received about 170 letters so far from people supporting one applicant over the other. The Estero council has actively solicited residents to submit letters in support of Lee Memorial, pointing out that the south Lee County hospital committee has been working with Lee Memorial since 2004.

“It’s well over a thousand,” Batos said about the tally of letters of support, adding that the number could be nearing 2,000 letters by the time Lee Memorial submits its application. “I know some are from Bonita. The majority are from Estero.”

Batos said the Estero council strongly believes the right location is where Lee Memorial owns its land. Estero has about 40,000 residents and the Coconut Road location is the epicenter of where the population is, especially an older population that needs health care, and it is an insured population to help make a new hospital viable.

The Estero council will have residents attending the April 23 hearing but it has no plans to make a spectacle of the proceeding, especially since people can submit written comments.

Baker, an insurance agent in Lehigh who is active in civic matters, said Lehigh Acres residents aren’t happy with HMA’s plans to close its 88-bed hospital and leave the community with a freestanding emergency room.

“We understand it’s a business decision but it doesn’t make sense,” Baker said.

If residents go to the freestanding emergency room and need to be hospitalized, that means another costly ambulance ride, she said. Another concern is what happens to the people of LaBelle and Clewiston who rely on the Lehigh hospital, she said.

Lehigh is coming back from the recession and its population is about 89,000, she said.

“Most of the foreclosed homes are gone,” she said, adding that buyers are making Lehigh their primary or secondary home. “When they (HMA) took over that hospital, like 10 years ago, it was half the population.”

The state will consider public comments in evaluating the applications, along with a host of factors, and issue its decision June 7, but the decision can be appealed. The state may approve either application or reject both, while approval of both is unlikely.

Posted earlier

Southwest Florida residents soon will get the chance to weigh in about a new hospital potentially being built in the Bonita Springs and Estero area.

The Agency for Health Care Administration has scheduled a hearing from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the April 23 hearing with state regulators at Hodges University, 4501 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers.

The state received five requests for a public hearing over hospital applications that are due next week from the Lee Memorial Health System and the Naples-based Health Management Associates, which are competitively vying for a state license to build a hospital in southern Lee County. Their detailed applications are due April 10.

HMA was the first to notify the state that it wants to close its 88-bed hospital in Lehigh Acres and relocate it to the Bonita Springs and Estero area. Although HMA has not disclosed an exact site, a company official has hinted that the Alico Road area may be one potential location. HMA will have to include the site in its application next week.

Officials with Lee Memorial decided to step up to the plate after HMA’s announcement with its own application to build an 80-bed hospital on 33 acres south of Coconut Road and U.S. 41, which was purchased several years ago with the intent of building a hospital.

The request for a public hearing came from Nicholas Batos, chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders, and from Tammy Baker, of Lehigh Acres, according to two letters to the state agency. Three emails were sent to the state requesting a hearing but information about who sent the emails was not immediately available.

In addition, the state agency has received about 170 letters from people expressing their interests in a new hospital and potentially supporting one applicant over the other. The Estero council has been actively soliciting residents to submit letters in support of the Lee Memorial hospital proposal, pointing out that the south Lee hospital committee has been working with Lee Memorial since 2004.

The state will consider public input in evaluating the certificate-of-need applications, along with a host of factors. The state will issue its decision June 7, which can always be appealed.

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