Thursday, May 22, 2003

Warren medical campus planned

Some hope it becomes hospital

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNION TOWNSHIP - Ohio's second-fastest-growing county will get its first medical campus on former farmland off Interstate 71, officials said Wednesday.

Bethesda Properties Inc. acquired 31.8 acres off Ohio Bypass 48 just north of I-71, along the east side of Lebanon Road, earlier this year for $1.2 million, Warren County records show.

The "hard decisions" on the campus' size, cost and specialties - and whether it will evolve into a hospital - are not known and will be made over the next six months to a year, said Joe Kelley, TriHealth spokesman.

"Obviously, when a county like Warren County is growing so much at such an incredible rate, the need for services in that particular region is quite apparent," Kelley said. "This gives us the option for caring for those needs in a newer and possibly larger facility."

The new campus, which will hold medical offices and other services, could possibly replace an existing 24-hour urgent-care clinic in Lebanon off Deerfield Road, he said.

TriHealth can't expand that 13,000-square-foot building, which has a full lab, diagnostic testing, board-certified emergency physicians and critical-care nurses, because it is landlocked, so it might be relocated to and expanded on the new property, he said. The new site is less than a mile away.

The parcel technically is in Union Township, but likely will be annexed into Lebanon because the township does not have sewer service in that area, county officials said.

Warren County's population grew 39 percent in the 1990s and now stands at 172,000 residents.

Last year, UC Physicians opened a hospital-like medical campus, the $100 million University Pointe, on 45 acres in West Chester Township, along Interstate 75 near the Butler-Warren county line.

Meanwhile, Middletown Regional Hospital plans to move eastward to a location near Interstate 75.

The relocated hospital is expected to open by 2008 with expansions in surgical services, cardiology, oncology and a high-tech trauma center, said Larry James, a spokesman for Middletown Regional.

"You're seeing this kind of movement because this is where the population is moving. This is one of the highest growth corridors in the state," James said Wednesday. "Health-care facilities, in keeping with the desire of the consuming public to have services be more convenient and accessible, are responding."

James insisted that Middletown Regional officials aren't concerned about competition in the northern suburbs from UC Physicians and TriHealth.

In southern Butler County, Mercy Hospital Fairfield is undergoing a $54.6 million expansion, doubling in size so it can serve as a regional medical center for Cincinnati's northwest suburbs.

And TriHealth administrators have closed Bethesda Oak in Avondale to shift services to Bethesda North in Montgomery.

"The current population and projected population warrants that kind of a response," James said. "We think the more health care responds in general, the better off health care is going to be."

Warren County Commissioner Pat South was "ecstatic" Wednesday about the new medical campus and holds out hope it will become the county's first hospital.

Warren is one of the few counties of its size in Ohio that does not have a hospital, she noted.

"I am thrilled to death with the number of jobs and services it will bring into the county," she said. "This is a great economic stimulant. We have not seen as many new jobs in the past few years, just like the rest of southwest Ohio.

"But we have started to see a spur in telephone contacts and interest from new businesses. This one seems to be the first real exciting potential we have had."


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