Two Shoals hospital groups are engaged in a battle over how many beds a new medical center in Florence should have and what services it can provide.
We caution residents of the Shoals — including community activists, business leaders and politicians — not to get too caught up in the ongoing fray between competing hospital groups.
The lawyers and management teams of RegionalCare Hospital Partners and Helen Keller Hospital are certainly capable of arguing their sides of how large a new hospital in Florence should be and what services it should be allowed to offer.
While everyone here should have an interest in the future of local medical services and has the right to try to influence the decision process, let's not allow the rhetoric to get so out of hand that it damages relationships in the Shoals.
RegionalCare officials are asking for a state certificate of need to build a 300-bed medical complex at Veterans Drive and Helton Drive in east Florence. The medical center would replace the aging Eliza Coffee Hospital. Their stated goal is to grow into a regional medical complex that will draw patients from across northwest Alabama as well as east Mississippi and south Tennessee. As part of the project, company officials want to build a cancer treatment center and provide heart surgery procedures.
Officials from Helen Keller Hospital, in Sheffield, argue that Lauderdale County does not need a hospital that large, nor does it need a new cancer treatment center when those services already are available in the Shoals. It also questions the viability of providing certain heart procedures here. Keller has a partnership with Huntsville Hospital, which has grown into a regional powerhouse for medical services, including heart procedures.
Noel Falls, of Falls Marketing Group, compiled data for RegionalCare that projects in the second year of operation the new hospital would have 18,501 discharges.
Bob Robicheaux, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, projects the discharges would actually be 8,181.
Falls' projection is about 7,000 more than Coffee's 2010 discharges and Robicheaux's number is about 3,000 less.
As has always been the case, the two hospital groups will compete for many of the same patients. In the past, that intense competition has provided a choice for patients while at the same time weakening the finances of both entities. It is yet to be seen if the area can support Coffee, Keller and Shoals hospitals into the future.
Ultimately, the state certificate of need board will determine whether a new RegionalCare hospital will be constructed, how large it will be and what services it will provide.
In the meantime, we encourage local leaders and residents to keep the rhetoric in check. We should not allow this process to disintegrate into a silly Lauderdale County vs. Colbert County fight. We should not let inflammatory words burn any bridges.
As with all things in the Shoals, we need each other. The more we work together, the better our lives will be for now and into the future.