Jim Nathan, president and CEO of Lee Memorial Health Systems, was asked by Edd Weiner, chairman of the Lehigh Community Planning Corporation (LACPP), that if Lehigh Regional Medical Center (LRMC) were to shut down operations in Lehigh, would Lee County Health Systems, which owns all the other hospitals in Lee County, consider building a hospital in Lehigh.
"We can never say never," Nathan said.
If the local hospital were to close, it would take a lot of work, gatherings of information including demographics, Nathan said. He said he had no knowledge of LRMC shutting down.
A few months ago, LRMC announced that it would ask a state agency by filing a certificate of need to relocate Lehigh's privately-owned hospital to another site in southern Lee County and close its Lehigh facility. LRMC is owned by Health Management Associates (HMA) with corporate headquarters in Naples. The firm owns several hospitals in the U.S.
Nathan had been invited to the LACPP meeting last week to give "an update" on health issues and information about any future plans that Lee County Health Systems may have for Lehigh Acres.
Earlier, LRMC decided not to continue to ask for a certificate of need after Lee County Health Systems also put in a bid to the state agency to build a hospital somewhere in the Bonita area and transfer beds perhaps from Lee Memorial Hospital in Cape Coral. The hospital has owned land there for several years.
Only another hospital in Naples is opposing the plan. Nathan said a decision will be made by June and if Lee County Health Systems is given the green light to proceed, it would take at least 18 months before another hospital could be opened.
Joanie Jeannette, president and CEO of LRMC, has repeatedly said there are no plans to shut down the hospital, notwithstanding the fact that it has lost money. LRMC has announced it is adding a patients' care clinic on the second floor of the hospital and is promoting its Emergency Room with advertising on local TV.
Nathan was asked about refurbishing older hospitals and he said that he had no information about what HMA had pans to do in that regard, but to renovate an older hospital today would likely be prohibitive because of the myriad of requirements for sizes of rooms, locations of special units and other requirements.
"An older hospital would likely have to be torn down as it would cost so much money to renovate and meet new state demands," Nathan said.
He noted when Lehigh's hospital made a bid to relocate and that his Lee County Health Systems decided to make a bid, too, since it has purchased land several years ago for possible future building of a hospital, both HMA (owners of LRMC) and he had discussions about any plans of possible cooperation, but the talks got nowhere.
In a surprise announcement, Nathan said Lee Memorial Health Systems is preparing to study the possibilities of establishing a health clinic in Lehigh Acres, but at present, it is being considered as a possibility.
He also said future hospitals will care for fewer people by admitting them to the hospital.
"Only the super sick will be admitted while others will be out patients. It makes time in the hospital shorter and will bring costs down," he said.
He didn't mix words when he said the Florida Legislature made a mistake during its recent session which ended two weeks ago when it didn't address Medicare and Medicaid funding for the state of Florida.
The state was one of the first that declined federal monies for expanded Medicare and Medicaid funding. Gov. Rick Scott sat at the beginning of his administration that Florida would turn down federal monies from those programs from coming into the state. The controversy had become decisive between Democrats and Republicans and other states with GOP governors made the same statement although some have changed their minds.
Gov. Scott has changed his mind and has said the state should accept the federal monies for expanded Medicare and Medicaid programs, but the Legislature adjourned without taking up Scott's recommendations. There are some that believe Scott should call the Legislature back in session just to address the Medicare and Medicaid Florida funding topic.
"By not accepting the Medicare funding from the federal government as its share to the state, Florida will lose $51 billion which will be taken out of the economy. It's mostly a game-change," Nathan said.
"Monies in these programs will disappear in 2014. It is essential that the state participate in the Medicare and Medicaid sharing program with the federal government."
Nathan, who spoke for an hour before the planning board, said Lee Health System's Children's Hospital, had become a must in Lee County because the closest hospitals that could care for sick children with serious problems, such as prenatal disorders and cancer, among others diseases, have had in the past be sent to either Tampa or Miami for treatment.
"That is too far for parents to have to go for treatment for their children. We want to keep the family together. Money has been raised d pledged at an astonishing rate and we are one of nine children's hospital in the state now . We need $100 million for the hospital and to date, we have $81 million in collections and pledges. It is unprecedented.
"It is at HealthPark where there are obstetrics. We made it contiguous to that facility."
He told LACPP members there is a website with information about Lee County Health systems.
"We publish everything because our hospitals are owned by you. You can find the website at www.leememorial.org.
In a message from Nathan on the website, he concludes an article with the following with regard to funding from the federal government:
"Let's remind our elected officials that the money for health coverage expansion is the people's money, not the federal government's money, and it needs to come back to the people of Southwest Florida. For more information, go to www.LeeMemorial.org and click on Florida Health News or click here to find a letter from our Lee Memorial Health System Board of Directors to legislators, talking points and other valuable data. Please remind the members of the Florida legislature that only they can make this happen, and the time for action is now!
"For all the people who get appropriate and timely health care, there are tens of thousands of people who do not. We hope that coverage will expand so the hard-working people in our community get the care they need and deserve."