By Timothy Cox
COLDWATER -- Mercer Health board of governors were told Wednesday to seek community feedback on a strategic plan that could lead to a new, full-service hospital in Celina.
The possible new facility in Celina comes on the heels of months of discussion among hospital officials about becoming a critical access hospital, a change that could vastly improve the hospital's financial situation. The critical access issue has been central as they craft a strategic plan for the long-range growth and development of the organization.
Mercer Health is the corporation that owns Mercer County Community Hospital, Coldwater, and all its branches.
According to Mercer Health CEO Terrance J. Padden, attaining the critical access designation would cause a dramatic increase in profitability for years to come. Critical access is a relatively new program created as part of the Medicare system to enhance medical services in rural communities. The program is aimed at stopping the number of small, rural hospitals from closing their doors.
A fiscal analysis shows Mercer Health would have earned an additional $2.8 million for the last fiscal year if it was part of the critical access program. The additional revenue would offer the opportunity to expand, possibly to a proposed site just east of Celina.
"From a visionary standpoint, it makes sense for us to expand our services by building an additional facility in Celina," Padden said in a news release this morning. "The facility could include inpatient beds, an emergency department, a radiology department, a laboratory, urgent care center and outpatient surgery center."
Gossip began swirling last week as government officials and community leaders began leaking details of the proposal. Despite the rumors, Mercer Health officials downplayed the plans.
Gaining critical access status and expanding services further into Celina are only preliminary concepts, Padden said.
"We need to be talking to any group so we can get a better feel for what the community wants," Padden said. "The establishment of a Celina facility is envisioned as being complimentary to the services available at the main campus in Coldwater."
A Celina hospital smaller than the existing facility could actually help Mercer Health attain the critical access status. Critical access hospitals are limited to those with 25 or fewer beds. Community Hospital on an average day has 18 or 19 of its beds full, but exceeds the 25 limit about 20 percent of the time.
"But we feel that would not be a limitation if there were beds available in a Celina facility," Padden said.
To qualify Mercer Health would have to gain approval by the end of this year from the Ohio Department of Health. The application process would take three to four months.
Padden said they could feasibly seek critical access status and look into new construction simultaneously.
The critical access program also would require any new buildings to employ "green," or energy conservation concepts, such as rooftop solar panels.