Hancock Regional Hospital has dusted off plans to build an outpatient surgery center with some of its doctors, and it may turn for help to a business run by the competition.
The Greenfield hospital has talked with Visionary Enterprises Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of Community Health Network; and another Indianapolis company, Russell Associates LLC, about forming a partnership to build the center.
Hancock Regional executive Rob Matt called the discussions preliminary but said officials hope to pick a partner by the end of the year.
Those involved in the discussions see plenty of reasons to proceed, including the county's growing population and patients' desire for convenience.
The center could bring more business to Hancock Regional, while also strengthening Community's presence in a county that otherwise would be off limits because of a construction moratorium.
Hospital officials said they need to evaluate the population base that would support the center, the interest from doctors who would operate it, and the patient volume it would likely draw.
"All those stars have to be aligned, we think and the doctors think, to make it successful," said Matt, Hancock's vice president of business development and marketing.
The county's population is projected to increase 11 percent from 2004 to 2009, to more than 67,000 people, according to projections from Indianapolis-based Health Evolutions Inc.
Hancock first looked into a surgery center three or four years ago, but found the timing was off, Matt said.
This time, population growth makes Hancock's doctors "very optimistic," Russell Associates President Russ Dowden said.
"They see continued growth, and they want to be able to meet the demands of their medical staff and their community," he said.
Some doctors want the center on the Hancock Regional campus, Matt said, so it's close to their offices and any inpatients they're treating.
He noted that surgery centers allow doctors to perform more procedures with greater efficiency, since they don't share operating rooms with inpatient or emergency cases.
"It's kind of a mean, lean operatingroom machine, if you will," Matt said.
In addition, patients prefer to go somewhere other than a hospital for procedures that don't require overnight stays, Matt said.
These centers typically focus on orthopedic, urology or gynecology procedures, but sometimes have other specialties.
Hancock County, like several counties around the state, passed a moratorium earlier this year that limits health care construction and protects the county hospital from competition. However, Hancock County lawmakers carved out an exception for projects that involve the county hospital, and this surgery center would fall within that exception.
Community's VEI is still studying the market, and CEO Bryan Mills said officials haven't concluded whether they would want to work with Hancock Regional. VEI has helped build several surgery centers in Indiana and Michigan.
Community has two hospitals on the east side of Marion County, and both draw patients and referrals from Hancock County. Mills said a Hancock surgery center could affect both of those hospitals.
But he also noted that growth in the area creates demand for more facilities, and he thinks there are enough patients for everyone. Hancock sits at least 20 miles from the two Community hospitals.
"It's not like somebody says, 'I'm going to A or B because they're right next door to each other,'" Mills said.
He noted that a surgery center VEI opened in Noblesville five years ago had no impact on nearby Community Hospital North.
A Hancock surgery center would fit with Community's plan to decentralize its services, said Mark Dixon, Community Health Network's chief operating officer.
"That's part of our strategy, to unbundle some of our services and bring them closer to where people live, as opposed to
having everybody come down to a particular campus," he said.