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St. Joseph's gets go ahead to build hospital on Big Bend Road

Ninety bedrooms, an intensive care unit, emergency, surgical and outpatient services and obstetrics with labor and delivery.

Yes, after an arduous course that began with a 1980s land purchase, St. Joseph's Hospital's vision of a new facility on Big Bend Road will likely begin crystallizing in the next two years. After officials finalize design plans with input from the community, construction will begin and a new South Shore hospital should open in 2015.

All this rises from St. Joseph's victory in a long permitting process that pitted it against Sun City Center's South Bay Hospital, which wants to relocate to a Big Bend Road location near the proposed St. Joseph's site.

Since 2005, the two hospitals have jockeyed for a certificate of need, with some suggesting South Bay merely wanted to stop St. Joseph's from coming into the South Shore market.

St. Joseph's ultimately won approval to build a hospital. South Bay appealed the decision, but lost a court fight earlier this year.

In October, the state's Agency for Health Care Administration delivered the official certificate of need to St. Joseph's, paving the way for the new hospital.

The Tampa-based hospital's satellite facility will provide an option for Riverview, Apollo Beach, Ruskin and Gibsonton residents, who currently choose between South Bay and Brandon Regional, both owned by Hospital Corporation of America.

"This area, southern Hills­borough County, has the least medical coverage of any place in the county," said Ed Barnes, president of the Sun City Center Community Association. "Having two hospitals in the area will be a great benefit to all of south Hillsborough County as well as the residents of Sun City Center."

That's the assessment I want to hear because my mama always told me to honor my elders. That means the retirees of Sun City Center should always have a full-service hospital to call their own.

But South Bay may still relocate its facility from Sun City Center to the Big Bend Road site. Although it withdrew its 2005 application for a certificate of need, it submitted a second application in 2007. It's on appeal, and hospital spokeswoman Melissa Morgan said it's unclear when the petition will be heard.

She added, however, that the move to Big Bend Road would put South Bay closer to the geographic and demographic center of its service area. South Bay, which opened 26 years ago, maintains an architectural rendering of a new Big Bend Road location on its Web site with a detailed explanation of what the hospital would offer, including expanded surgical, orthopedics, oncology, emergency and critical care services.

It also insists it would maintain a presence in Sun City Center with emergency care, diagnostic services and rehabilitation programs.

"We're talking about expanding, not reducing services," Morgan said.

I'm just not sure if that's enough for residents who moved into the area with the understanding it would be able to call upon a full-service hospital. Sure, Big Bend Road is just one exit north of Sun City Center. But that 9-mile trek can be a long drive for an elderly person in need of attention, as well as those using golf cart transportation to visit friends and family at the hospital.

It's also worth noting that many Sun City Center residents stay active by volunteering at South Bay, and the relocation also could make that a challenge.

Morgan said South Bay would provide free transportation from its existing facility to the new Big Bend Road campus. That sounds good, but I think the residents prefer the status quo.

"South Bay Hospital here is really a very good hospital," Barnes said. "It fits our needs. South Bay is critical and we want to keep that, but we also want the regional hospital."

In my ideal world, the new St. Joseph's hospital will come on line in 2015 ,and South Bay will remain in place and remain successful. Yes, staying in Sun City Center could put South Bay at a competitive disadvantage, but I believe there are enough patients to make both hospitals viable.

More important, the Sun City Center folks deserve the ultimate in convenience when it comes to medical services. It's just one way we can honor them, and we should.

That's all I'm saying.

St. Joseph's gets go ahead to build hospital on Big Bend Road 12/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:46pm]

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