RIVERVIEW — St. Joseph's Hospital appears closer to getting the final green light to build a hospital in the coveted growth area of southern Hillsborough County.
The state Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, has reversed itself and sided with an administrative law judge, who ruled in May that St. Joseph's should get permission to build a hospital on Big Bend Road.
In a final order issued Friday, AHCA accepted the judge's recommended order, in effect agreeing with his conclusion that St. Joseph's proposed 90-bed hospital would improve access to emergency care and obstetrics services for area residents.
A competitor, HCA-owned South Bay Hospital, had opposed the plan and sought to build its own hospital in the same area. South Bay proposed moving its hospital from Sun City Center, leaving behind a free-standing emergency room and diagnostic services for the retirement community. Residents mounted a campaign against that plan.
South Bay Hospital has 30 days to file a judicial appeal.
"We don't agree with the recommendation presented by the administrative law judge, so we don't agree with AHCA's decision to follow it," said South Bay spokeswoman Melissa Morgan.
She said hospital officials were evaluating whether to appeal.
South Bay had filed its own proposal for a hospital at Big Bend Road in 2007, which AHCA approved late last year. St. Joseph's appealed and a hearing was set for early 2009.
Now St. Joseph's officials feel confident entering that hearing with decisions on their side from both an administrative law judge and AHCA.
"This is really great news for us as we go forward to that administrative hearing," said St. Joseph's spokeswoman Lisa Patterson. "We think this is the right thing for the community, and the community particularly in Sun City Center has been very active in communicating their desire as well."
Sun City Center resident Jerry Mahoney called it a "victory for the people who signed 3,500 letters addressed to AHCA and the governor."
"I think it's wonderful news for two constituencies — the people in Sun City Center and everybody who lives south of the Alafia River," he said.
Saundra Amrhein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2441.