FLORENCE — A room full of attorneys arguing the benefits and detriments of building a hospital in Florence focused on the size of the proposed facility Monday during the first day of a contested case hearing.
RegionalCare Hospital Partners are trying to build a replacement facility for Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital and an accompanying cancer treatment center.
The exchange of questions and testimony centered on how many beds should be included in the hospital and the possible impact the new projects could have on existing health care facilities in the Shoals.
Brentwood, Tenn.-based RegionalCare has applied for a certificate of need for the two projects. Both are being opposed by Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield and Alliance Oncology, which operates radiation therapy treatment centers in Florence and Sheffield.
Attorney’s for RegionalCare brought in a handful of local, elected officials to testify about the benefit the new facility would provide to the community. Each official, on cross examination, particularly by attorneys representing Helen Keller, was asked about the proposed project’s alignment with the state health plan’s projected bed need.
Helen Keller attorneys contend they are not opposed to the hospital but want it built “the right size.”
The attorneys, Dennis Nabors and Will Somerville, repeatedly asked witnesses about the 215 beds that the state health plan projected in 2011 would be needed for Lauderdale County. The witnesses called by RegionalCare argued that number was not the only factor needed in deciding the need for Lauderdale County.
State Rep. Greg Burdine, D-Florence, pledged his support for both proposals. Burdine said the state health plan’s projections should be “a piece of the puzzle.”
“I’ve been in Montgomery long enough to know you can’t make decision based totally on what a state agency or (state) board comes up with,” Burdine said.
Currently, Eliza Coffee Memorial is licensed to operate 358 beds. RegionalCare wants to build a 300-bed hospital in east Florence, near the Singing River Bridge corridor.
Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock, Lauderdale County Commission Chairman Dewey Mitchell and Florence City Councilman Dick Jordan all testified to the need of the proposed facilities.
During cross examination, they were asked if the potential affects on facilities in Colbert County, particularly Helen Keller Hospital, were considered when negotiating the sale of ECM to RegionalCare. Somerville noted, while questioning Mitchell, that competition between the two counties has been “sometimes friendly, sometimes not so friendly.”
Somerville also asked Mitchell if discussions during the negotiation to sell the hospital ever included provisions to protect Helen Keller Hospital. Mitchell served on the Coffee Health Group board, which oversaw operations of ECM Hospital before it was sold.
“Don’t you think it would be a terrible thing if building an extra large hospital in Lauderdale County were to hurt Helen Keller?” Somerville asked Mitchell.
Mitchell said after earlier discussions to collaborate with Helen Keller Hospital failed, his main concern was to make sure the points of the asset purchase agreement with RegionalCare were fulfilled, specifically building a 300-bed hospital in Lauderdale County.
Richard Brockman, attorney for Alliance Oncology, said during opening statements that Alliance is already in a pseudo-partnership with ECM to provide radiation oncology treatment. He said Alliance objects to the duplication of service that would happen if an additional radiation oncology service was offered.
Brockman later asked witnesses if their support for the proposed cancer center would waiver if Alliance Oncology was providing the radiation therapy at the new facility.
Brockman told RegionalCare CEO Marty Rash, the first witness of the day, that Alliance presented that idea earlier. Rash said he was unaware of the proposal.
“My main point today is to let you know (the idea) is still there,” Brockman said to Rash. “That offer hasn’t gone away.”
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.
Linda Marzialo, architect for RegionalCare
Aker Rogers, Florence resident
Dr. Steven White, ECM Hospital board member
Sam Pendleton, former Florence councilman
Dr. Constantine Athanasuleas, cardiovascular surgeon at ECM
Dr. E.P. Holden, ECM Hospital board member
Dr. William Heaton, cardiologist and chief of staff at ECM