Hoover hospital one step closer to reality

Published 11:36 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

Even on a good day it can take more than 20 minutes to reach an emergency department from the Highland Lakes neighborhood off U.S. 280, according to one time-lapse video.

Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said paramedics and members of the city’s fire department could vouch for that too.

“Our fire department transports people all of the time to hospitals in downtown Birmingham. One department even had to deliver a baby on Interstate 65 back in July,” Petelos said.

The video mentioned before is posted on www.280ernow.com, a Web site created by Brookwood Medical Center, which is one of four health systems vying to provide Hoover with the emergency room it lacks.

A public meeting is scheduled Dec. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Hoover Public Library to discuss a proposal by Brookwood that would allow any hospital to apply to build a E.R. in Hoover. Baptist Medical had also planned to submit a similar proposal.

Current state regulations cap how many hospital beds can be licensed in Hoover and Jefferson County.

Ross Mitchell, vice president of communications for Baptist Health Systems, said the rules limit what his and other systems can do.

“There’s a poor distribution of patient beds relative to the population today,” Mitchell said. “Our plan was in response to the community need.”

Baptist wants to build a facility at its current Princeton Hoover site to accommodate up to 140 beds. If the plan were to be approved, the beds would move from Princeton Baptist in West End, which is currently only using 300 of its 499 licensed beds.

Brookwood Medical Center, meanwhile, wants to eventually build a 140-bed hospital in the Greystone area. The system already submitted a certificated of need for a freestanding emergency department in June.

President and CEO Garry Gause said his system would focus on completing that project first and then expand from there. “Our approach is to bring the most needed care now and the shortage in the U.S. 280 area is very obviously emergency treatment,” Gause said.

Brookwood’s freestanding ER would cost $19 million to complete.

St. Vincent’s health system proposed a similar plan for a freestanding ER mid-summer. Its facility would be built at its current One Nineteen Health and Wellness location and would cost around $8 million. St. Vincent’s also received certificate of need approval Monday for an ambulatory surgery center for the same site.

“St. Vincent’s remains committed to the Hoover and Shelby County communities,” said spokeswoman Liz Moore. “We are excited to have state approval for the construction of an outpatient surgery center on our St. Vincent’s One Nineteen campus. This is an expansion of the medical and wellness services currently offered on our Shelby County campus and we are continuing work on next steps for additional services such as a freestanding emergency center.”

Earlier this month, Trinity Medical Center purchased the digital hospital site originally begun by HealthSouth Corporation. Further plans for that facility have not been announced because the hospital has not yet submitted a certificate of need application with the state.

Not all of these decisions were unprompted. The city of Hoover commissioned a study to look at the need for a hospital four years ago.

“It was very plain that we did need a healthcare facility that could meet the needs of our residents,” Petelos said. “Once the study was complete we even invited the surrounding hospitals to take a look at moving here. They say be careful what you wish for but I don’t think having this many interested parties is a bad thing.”

Hoover now includes a population of more than 70,000 residents. It is the only city in the state with a population over 60,000 that does not have a hospital.

Petelos said Hoover still has a tremendous amount of growth potential and he believes the market is big enough to see projects happen in both the 280 corridor and west Hoover.

“I’m tired of the mindset that says Jefferson County is over bedded and therefore a hospital shouldn’t be built here,” Petelos said. “What I would like the committee to do is be realistic and understand that when those certificate of needs were issued Hoover had 450 people living here.”

Even if the coordinating council for the State Health Planning Department recommends the amendment for approval, it will have to be approved by the governor and legislature. The health systems would then have to begin the CON proves.