Health Care and Government

St. Francis plans another south-side growth spurt: Hospital system looks to build on 30 acres adjacent to Indianapolis campus

January 8, 2007

The youth soccer teams that fill the playing fields near St. Francis Hospital-Indianapolis will take their matches elsewhere next spring to accommodate another expansion by the burgeoning hospital.

St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers wants to build on 30 acres of land near the south-side hospital and Interstate 65, according to paperwork filed with Marion County.

An acute-care bed tower, medical offices and a cancer center are among the expansion possibilities for the campus, which the Beech Grove-based hospital system opened in 1995.

But hospital leaders caution that they haven't finalized growth plans.

"There is truly nothing set," said Keith Jewell, a senior vice president and chief operating officer for the hospital system.

Jewell cites patient growth as the main driver behind future construction. Planners originally thought the Indianapolis campus would serve only as an outpatient outpost.

But patient revenue at the 192-bed hospital has risen more than 15 percent annually, a growth rate that exceeds the system's other central Indiana campuses in Mooresville and Beech Grove.

Annual emergency room visits increased 225 percent from 1996 to 2005 at the Indianapolis campus. Over the same time frame, outpatient visits have shot up 272 percent, to more than 325,000.

The hospital network started laying the groundwork for its next expansion more than a year ago, when it moved a creek that ran through the property targeted for construction.

In 2004, it bought 40 acres of land near Arlington Avenue and Stop 11 Road to create a new home for the soccer fields, which should be ready for action this spring, spokeswoman Kay Johnson said.

The hospital system also has asked government officials to speed up a plan to widen South Emerson Avenue to ease traffic congestion.

That project is scheduled for 2015, but the hospital might complete some elements of its expansion by 2010, said Republican City-County Councilor Mike Speedy, whose district sits across Emerson from St. Francis.

"I really hope we can get a lot of the city and state's focus on St. Francis because they are an in-place employer looking to aggressively expand," he said.

St. Francis already has added a $71 million heart center to the campus. Last fall, hospital officials said they plan to raise $15 million to build a free-standing hospice, there, too.

Several medical offices also have been built near St. Francis, and Kindred Hospital Indianapolis South is constructing a 60-bed acute-care hospital nearby.

The campus, coupled with St. Francis' long-standing Beech Grove hospital, have helped the hospital system build a dominant presence on the south side.

However, other hospital systems aren't conceding the market. Last year, Clarian Health Partners planted a stake on the south side by starting a development agreement with Martinsville's Morgan Hospital & Medical Center, and Community Hospital South also is expanding.

St. Francis' plans for the Indianapolis campus don't mean the system is giving up on Beech Grove, where it began operating in 1914. The hospital system has spent millions there, as well, Jewell noted. It expanded cancer care and added a rehabilitation unit, among other investments.

"We've tried to come up with other productive uses for this facility that will continue to allow us to expand our breadth of services that we offer," Jewell said. "But we are very landlocked here at Beech Grove."

St. Francis' growth push makes sense, health care observers say. Residential development continues at a rapid clip in the southern suburbs, which ultimately will translate into more patients, consultant Duane Sobecki noted.

"I would say St. Francis is trying to stay ahead of the curve," said Sobecki, principal with Indianapolis-based Focused Results.
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