By Tim Cox
A proposal by Mercer Health to build a new medical facility in Celina is back on the fast track.
A comprehensive, three-month needs assessment and feasibility study recommended the hospital move forward with the project. Expansion is necessary, the study said, because more services are needed locally and to avoid another health care provider from cornering the Celina market.
Mercer Health's board of governors and board of trustees met in a joint session this week to hear the results of the study. The report confirmed what many hospital officials already suspected -- that there is room for growth in the Celina market.
By not developing more services around Celina, the organization risks losing market share to competitors, the study said. The hospital's board of trustees voted unanimously to continue with the preliminary planning that has been going on behind the scenes for several months.
Consultants from Charis Healthcare, Hudson, recommend a two-phase approach to bolster Mercer Health's presence in Celina. The project should begin with a new facility in or around Celina, the study suggested. The first phase should involve imaging services (MRI, CT scans, mammograms), emergency room services, same-day surgery, a laboratory and consolidation of some existing services in Celina. Phase two would involve more specialized services and inpatient beds.
Preliminary estimates indicate the first phase of the project could cost as much as $20 million. No tax dollars will be sought to fund the project, but Mercer Health officials are counting on Celina residents and businesses to help pay for it through traditional fund-raising activities and possible economic development incentives, Mercer Health CEO T.J. Padden said.
Prior plans to help fund the project by joining a Medicare funding program aimed at helping rural hospitals have fallen through. Mercer Health will not be able to qualify under the terms of the program, Padden said.
The hospital's board of trustees voted to authorize Padden and the management team to take the next steps in the project. That includes looking for available land around Celina, and putting together design teams to work with an architect that already did some preliminary work on the project, Mercer Health public relations manager Ken Obringer said.
The study also addressed the existing hospital in Coldwater. The study recommends improving business development and physician recruitment at the hospital and modernizing that facility. The study revealed that the emergency department, especially, is in need of an update, something hospital officials already have been looking at.
In a best-case scenario, the new Celina facility could be up and running within 14 months or so. As conceived now, the facility would have a staff of about 35 people with an annual payroll of $1.5 million, Padden said.
Although Charis consultants told hospital officials that if they do not move forward with the project, some other entity likely would, local officials played down the competition factor.
"It's not about beating the competition, it's about providing the services that are needed locally," Obringer said.
While competition is not driving the necessity of the project, it will influence the pace, Padden said.
"Our industry is a very competitive industry right now and there is no question larger organizations are probably looking at the same thing we are," Padden said. "Because of that, it is prudent for us to move briskly."
News that the proposal to build in Celina will be aggressively pursued pleased city officials, who are eager to see the new jobs and development.
"It's very exciting," said Celina Mayor Sharon LaRue, who serves on the hospital's board of governors.
Hospital officials had previously looked at available land in the Grand Lake Industrial Park along Staeger Road owned by the city as a possible expansion site. The land has not been ruled out and Mercer Health officials will consider all available options, Padden said.