Arizona Regional Medical Center is racing to open its second hospital - Apache Junction's first - before health care reform legislation could restrict expansion by for-profit hospitals.
Arizona Regional Medical Center opened in northwest Mesa in late September 2008 after Mesa General Hospital closed that May. The for-profit hospital is owned by 42 investors, most of whom are physicians.
It is now preparing to open its second hospital on Southern Avenue west of Ironwood Drive. Arizona Regional Medical Center Apache Junction campus will include 30 patient beds, including 10 intensive care unit beds and 20 medical surgical beds. The hospital is investing nearly $30 million in the Apache Junction campus.
About 200 jobs will be created by the new hospital, said Brent Cope, Arizona Regional Medical Center's CEO.
"We're hoping to get it open by the end of the year," he said. "Last year there were 500 emergency admissions (at the Mesa hospital) who were people who live (in the Apache Junction area). That's quite a block of people who have to go to a different city for those services. This is a growing community."
Arizona Regional has converted a physician's office into a 32,000-square-foot, full-service hospital with an emergency room. It will offer all services provided at the Mesa hospital, including vascular surgery, general surgery and open-heart surgery, Cope said.
"We're expecting a pretty good influx of patients right away." he said. "We can expect 1,000 to 1,500 emergency room visits a month almost right away. We're expecting to have on average 15 to 20 patients as inpatients on any given day, and then the surgeries that go along with that. We've got capacity to do 200 to 400 surgeries a month depending on what kind of surgeries they are. Capacity is 30 inpatients at a time, and so we expect to get pretty close to that 30 quickly given the fact that it will be the first hospital coming into the Valley from the east side."
Arizona Regional already has submitted the paperwork to obtain its federal Medicare license, Cope said. It hopes to receive the license before health care reform legislation limits expansion by physician-owned hospitals, he said.
"The health care reform, if it would have been enacted when they wanted it to be, the deadline (for expansions) would have already passed," Cope said. "The deadline was November 1, and it's been moved. In the U.S. Senate, it's sitting on January 1 and in the U.S. House of Representatives it's on February 1. There's lots of debating going back and forth."
Not-for-profit hospitals have been fighting to get restrictions placed on for-profit hospitals expanding, said Eugene Schneller, a professor in the School of Health Management and Policy in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He is monitoring the status of health care reform legislation.
"Obviously (not-for-profit hospitals) compete with them, and they believe that they provide an unfair playing field to the extent that they allegedly take away paying patients and don't take as much indigent care, and they allegedly have a different quality of care," he said. "We've looked at the data pretty carefully, and the data tends to suggest that that's not entirely true and that there's almost a convergence in terms of quality of care provided ... and providing benefits to the community."
Most of Arizona Regional's patients are federally funded, and that will be the case in Apache Junction, Cope said.
"There's a fair percentage of retirees out here in Apache Junction ... and the older you get the more frequent your trips to the hospital," he said. "The Medicare population would be significant out here, so we would see somewhere in the vicinity of 70 to 75 percent federally funded patients, and that's before health care reform."
There are no current restrictions on for-profit hospital expansions, but that could change with health care reform, Schneller said.
"There are a lot of interest groups in this, and the for-profit/not-for-profit issue is clearly a big issue."