By Timothy Cox
Mercer Health officials have hired a strategic planning consultant to study the need for medical services in the area before moving forward with plans to build a new facility in Celina.
The study commissioned by the hospital's governing boards does not mean the group's plans for Celina have changed, CEO T.J. Padden said. The "quantitative analysis" is necessary, he said, to ensure the organization has the "right mix of services in the right locations."
Mercer Health officials for months have been discussing what internally is called the "Celina outreach facility." The project has been pitched as a new hospital, possibly a full-service medical center with on-site emergency room, radiology, laboratory and other services. But there are differing opinions among Mercer Health officials and the public about what form such a facility should take.
People in and around Celina tend to favor the idea of a new hospital similar to the existing one in Coldwater. Those in the southern part of the county worry that such a facility in Celina will take Mercer Health's focus away from the area it was originally formed to serve.
Officials hope the study done by Akron-based Charis Healthcare will help make those decisions. "The hospital has engaged a consulting firm with emphasis in strategic planning, site selection and programmatic design to evaluate the service needs of the population within our catchment area to better refine the hospital's outreach efforts, including the proposed Celina project," Padden said.
The firm's final report is expected by mid-summer, he said. The cost of the study still is being negotiated.
"It makes sense to bring in specialists," especially be-cause a new hospital could run $10-$20 million, Padden said.
A comprehensive study like the one Charis will do would have eventually been necessary anyway before the hospital could obtain financing, Padden said.
The study will help Mercer health officials sharpen their focus on where new services are needed. The group's two governing boards, medical staff and administration already agree they need to expand services.
"It's a huge step to have that consensus," Padden said.
Mercer Health officials had been shopping for land on the east and northeast edges of Celina. They expanded their search efforts south of the city last month and the site selection could change further based on the results of the Cheris study.
Hospital officials also continue to pursue a change in the organization's Medicare status that would allow it to draw more federal revenue.