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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Proposed legislation that would require a Certificate of Need could put a damper on plans to replace St. Joseph Hospital downtown.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019 1:00 am

Lutheran's St. Joseph plans could be slowed

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

The future of health care in Fort Wayne could hinge on a bill introduced last week in Indianapolis.

If the proposed legislation becomes law, health care providers would have to prove a community need before winning state approval to build a new hospital, outpatient surgery center or other facility costing $10 million or more.

The potential requirement could have a chilling effect on competition if state officials set the bar high for winning approval.

More than one significant health care investment is proposed locally.

St. Joseph Hospital is scheduled to be replaced by a new, $120 million downtown hospital promised by Lutheran Health Network. If construction begins before June 30, the hospital wouldn't be subject to the new requirement – even if the bill does pass.

Despite a formal announcement Dec. 19, some critics question whether the hospital will materialize. They cite parent company Community Health System's significant debt load as reason for their doubt.

Indiana University Health is also evaluating its future in Fort Wayne. The Indianapolis-based health care provider's expansion plans could include a new hospital.

IU Health officials had expressed interest in the North River property formerly occupied by OmniSource before backing off, saying they weren't ready to make a commitment within the timeline Mayor Tom Henry established for riverfront development.

John Perlich, city spokesman, said Henry doesn't see the need for IU Health to build a hospital on the North River site now that Lutheran has announced its downtown plans.

“That doesn't mean we don't want to see IU Health continue to grow and expand in Fort Wayne. We very much want that to happen,” Perlich said in an email.

He didn't comment on whether the state should play a role in deciding IU Health's ability to expand locally.

Health care is big business nationwide, and local providers Parkview Health and Lutheran Health Network have invested millions to expand operations. Parkview Regional Medical Center, which opened in 2012, cost about $550 million.

Parkview Health is Allen County's largest employer with 7,858 full-time-equivalent positions. Lutheran's network ranked second, according to the latest data from Greater Fort Wayne Inc., with 4,824 full-time-equivalent positions. Two employees working 20 hours a week each would make up one full-time position.

A Parkview spokeswoman said the local nonprofit doesn't comment on pending legislation. An IU Health spokeswoman referred comment to the Indiana Hospital Association, an Indianapolis-based trade group opposed to the legislation.

A Lutheran network spokesman provided a brief comment.

“It is early in the state's legislative session, and we are still reviewing proposed legislation and its potential impact,” Geoff Thomas said in an email.

“We are pleased with the support we've received thus far to build downtown Fort Wayne's first new hospital in more than a century,” he said. “That important process continues to move forward.”

sslater@jg.net