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Hospitals preparing for fevered growth

In Hernando County, the sound of health care isn't the whisper of awhite-uniformed nurse, it's the roar of earth-moving equipment and the clatter of a hammer.

The health care business is thriving, and so is the construction needed to accommodate it.

HCA Oak Hill Hospital just pushed itself up by adding a fourth floor. This year it's pushing itself out, adding a south wing for administration and a west wing to house a four-story outpatient facility and doctors' offices.

And Lykes Health Systems Inc. is clearing land to build a 75-bed satellite hospital at the southern border of Seven Hills, a residential development in Spring Hill between County Line Road and Spring Hill Drive.

The Spring Hill expansions reflect the intense competition between Oak Hill and Lykes for the rapidly growing westside market. That competition started five years ago when Oak Hill opened.

Lykes, the county-owned hospital in Brooksville, reported an almost immediate effect: a lower occupancy rate and a greater percentage of care being provided to indigent residents.

For the past three years, Lykes has been trying to attract more Spring Hill patients. Lykes opened westside walk-in clinics. It established a westside enrichment center for senior citizens.

In the meantime, Oak Hill has built a steadily increasing patient base. It expanded its outpatient services.

More doctors opened offices on the west side of the county.

Both hospitals asked state regulators for approval to further tap the westside market. Oak Hill received state approval to add 54 beds to its existing 96-bed facility. Most of that new bed space was included in the fourth-floor addition, which opened in December.

Lykes received state approval to transfer 75 of its 166 Brooksville beds to a new Spring Hill satellite hospital. Lykes will finance the construction of the new hospital and a refinancing of some old debts with a $57-million, tax-free, health care bond sale.

Lykes officials predict a 1991 opening for their new Spring Hill Community Hospital, which will include obstetric and pediatric beds.

While the two acute-care hospitals have charted their growth, Psychiatric Hospitals of America opened in December.

The 50-bed facility is near Pine Brook Regional Medical Center on State Road 50.