SUN CITY CENTER — Last time, they felt like their voices weren't heard.
But that hasn't stopped Sun City Center residents opposed to the move of South Bay Hospital.
The community association kicked off a letter-writing campaign this week to send opinions to state officials, representatives and senators. Community leaders are hoping to coordinate complaints about South Bay's attempt to move its hospital to Big Bend Road in Riverview and leave behind an emergency room and diagnostic services.
Late last year, the Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, approved South Bay's plans despite opposition voiced during a community meeting that drew more than 1,000 residents. Some said they needed South Bay to stay because they relied on golf carts to visit spouses in the hospitals.
Others feared being transported by ambulance from a free-standing emergency room to a full hospital 8 miles away during a crisis. Many welcomed the competition offered by St. Joseph's Hospital, which also petitioned the state to build a facility on Big Bend Road.
Now those residents have a new ally.
Last week, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of St. Joseph's earlier request, stating in a 41-page opinion that AHCA erred in its 2005 denial of St. Joseph's petition.
The judge said the growing population of southern Hillsborough County, combined with crowded conditions at nearby hospitals, proves that the area can support two hospitals — South Bay in Sun City Center and St. Joseph's in Riverview.
AHCA will issue a final decision within 45 days of receipt of the judge's recommended order. Officials there would not say how the agency might reconcile its own approval of South Bay's request with the judge's order to grant St. Joseph's request.
Residents hope to weigh in supporting the judge's decision by sending letters, which are being coordinated and composed at the community association Atrium Building on the Central Campus.
For more information on hours and how to get involved, residents can call the community association at 633-3500.
"Sun City Center has always worked for things that were good for the whole county, not just Sun City Center, and we hope the rest of the county will see that this is the best thing for the whole county," said Janet Wilson, a resident for 22 years.
South Bay officials would not say how they plan to respond to the judge's decision, remarking only that they remain committed to Sun City Center and South Shore.
In its proposal, South Bay officials have argued that the 16-acre campus limited their ability to expand. They'd hoped to make the new hospital at Big Bend appealing to patients of all ages by offering services such as obstetrics for a younger population as well as oncology and surgeries for everyone.
They'd also offered to help transport retired residents wishing to visit the new hospital through a shuttle service.
Saundra Amrhein can be reached at email@example.com or 661-2441.