Friday, April 16, 2004

Medical campus starts small

By Tim Bonfield
and Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Construction could start later this year on the first parts of a 34-acre medical campus in Warren County, but there won't be a full-service hospital there anytime soon.

Sometime this summer, the TriHealth hospital group intends to submit a proposal to Lebanon officials to begin developing land acquired about a year ago near U.S. 48 and Lebanon Road, said TriHealth spokeswoman Linnea Lose.

The project will involve moving Bethesda Warren County's 24-hour emergency service on Deerfield Road, which opened in 1980, to the new campus. The project also would add other medical services, but TriHealth officials have not decided exactly what would be built first, Lose said.

The project could include services ranging from outpatient surgery to MRI scanners. But it won't be the full-service hospital - with intensive care units, cardiac care and maternity services - some county residents have wanted for years.

"We have not committed to building a hospital. And we know that's not going to happen immediately," Lose said.

Warren County's population is growing faster than nearly all other Ohio counties, yet it remains one of the few counties that does not have a full-service hospital.

It will have one just inside county borders in a few years, if Middletown Regional Hospital completes its long-planned rebuilding project. Whether that project will satisfy hospital advocates remains to be seen.

Dr. George Reed, county health commissioner, has been pushing for a Warren County hospital for about 30 years.

"I have always been a champion of a hospital in the center of Warren County," he said. "If we had a hospital, I think we would blossom as a community even better than we are now."

Warren County Commissioner Mike Kilburn praised the TriHealth project for not seeking taxpayer subsidies - unlike Middletown Regional's $5 million request for road work.

"They're using their own money and their own land, unlike some other places that want to hold local governments ransom and ask for millions," Kilburn said.

While TriHealth's project would be centrally located in Warren County, it may be a long time, if ever, before it becomes a hospital. Instead, the group that operates the Bethesda North and Good Samaritan hospitals is planning something closer to the UC Physicians medical campus under construction in West Chester Township.

"It's not necessarily in response to University Pointe, but we are looking at developing it a service at a time," Lose said.

The University Pointe campus includes specialty offices, expanded diagnostic services, a cancer radiation treatment center, and (under construction) an ambulatory surgery unit with an eight-bed short-stay hospital unit. The group plans to announce by September if and when it might build a 200-bed hospital.

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