LEE COUNTY — Two Southwest Florida hospital systems competing to build a hospital in south Lee County followed through with a step in the state application process Wednesday, officials with both groups said.
The publicly operated Lee Memorial Health System and Health Management Associates, a for-profit hospital company headquartered in Naples, each submitted shell certificate-of-need applications to the state Agency for Healthcare Administration by a deadline Wednesday.
Each group must submit detailed applications with patient projections for the first few years, staffing levels, costs, and other information by April 10. The state will issue a preliminary decision June 7, but those decisions are often appealed by a party that does not prevail.
In early February, HMA filed notice with the state that it wants to relocate its 88-bed hospital in Lehigh Acres to south Lee County, potentially the Alico Road area but HMA hasn’t finalized a site.
“We’re still working on it,” Alan Levine, president of the Florida Group for HMA, said Wednesday.
The location will need to be included in the detailed application next month, he said.
After HMA’s move, Lee Memorial’s board last week decided to accelerate plans to build an 80-bed hospital on 33 acres south of Coconut Road and U.S. 41. The land was purchased several years ago for purposes of a hospital when the time became right.
What’s also in the works is for Levine and Lee Memorial’s president, Jim Nathan, to meet and see if the two hospitals can work together in some manner. Levine made an overture to Nathan last week in an email that they meet.
“We’re going to connect later this week,” Levine said. “Both of us are interested (that) whatever happens, it is the right thing for the community.”
In the past, Levine said he and Nathan have found themselves in agreement on issues, and he doesn’t want the upcoming talks to only focus on a new hospital.
“I think there are bigger issues than a hospital, health-care reform is a bigger issue,” Levine said.
So far the NCH Healthcare System, which operates the 261-bed North Naples Hospital on Immokalee Road and draws patients from Bonita Springs and Estero, has not weighed in on what’s happening. State rules stipulate that NCH can object to either HMA or Lee Memorial, and must do so in writing within 21 days after the April 10 applications are due.
Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of NCH, said this week that it was premature to comment without knowing some of the specifics of the two hospital proposals. NCH is looking at what the impact can be to its operations, he said, but no objections have been submitted so far to the state.
Kevin Newingham, Lee Memorial vice president for strategic services, said Lee Memorial is looking at an 80-bed hospital in the range of 141,000 square feet of building space.
He didn’t have a price estimate but the rule of thumb today is that the cost is $1 million per bed, but the price may be lower because Lee Memorial already owns the land.
At last week’s Lee Memorial board meeting, members of the South Lee County hospital committee, which formed several years ago to lobby for a hospital to serve Bonita Springs and Estero, came out in support of Lee Memorial.
A campaign has been launched already to garner letters of support to include in the application in April, Newingham said.
“We’ve actually taken a pretty comprehensive approach to that,” he said, adding that officials with the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce were in Tallahassee on Wednesday on other business but were going to give a plug to Lee Memorial’s effort.
Garnering letters of support from members of the medical community and civic leaders is standard practice in CON applications.