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Proposed hospitals could expand Hanover health care access

A rendering of the proposed 60-bed HCA healthcare hospital and emergency room
HCA Healthcare
HCA Healthcare has proposed building a 60-bed hospital and emergency room in the Ashland District of Hanover County.

HCA, Bon Secours are vying to open facilities near Ashland, but they need the state’s approval first.

As Hanover County residents navigate the landscape of healthcare providers, two companies — Bon Secours and HCA Health Services of Virginia — are vying to expand their footprint of services in the Ashland District. But before the companies can open new hospitals, they’ll need approval from the state health department.

A report released in July conducted by Virginia Department Health staff, recommended that Bon Secours move forward with its proposed development while the HCA hospital be denied. Those recommendations must still be approved by the state health commissioner this fall.

In January, HCA proposed building a $233 million hospital at 10054 Sliding Hill Road near Interstate 95. The 60-bed facility would be the first hospital operated by HCA in Hanover.

The building would include an emergency department, 80,000 square feet of office space, a heliport and room to expand to 160 beds in the future.

Bon Secours proposed its own emergency care facility in April at 10080 Lewistown Road — just three miles from HCA’s potential development. The healthcare provider has served the Hanover area since 1998, when Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville first opened.

The company's proposed 17,8000 square-foot space would expand the hospital’s medical imaging services, and the addition of 10 emergency rooms would “decompress high volumes of visits at Memorial Regional while also improving medic reliability and emergency transport times for the Hanover community and beyond,” a company spokesperson told VPM News.

The planned $17-million expansion comes after Bon Secours completed a $50-million expansion and renovation project at Memorial Regional.

In order for both proposals to get off the ground, the two healthcare competitors need to obtain a certificate of public need from the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Licensure and Certification.

State code requires healthcare companies to apply for such documents in order to regulate access and the cost of health services. Medical providers don't need approval to open freestanding emergency rooms, but they do need approval to install critical equipment like CT or MRI scanners.

While health department staff suggested only the Bon Secours project move forward, that recommendation could be overruled by the state health commissioner.

“Bon Secours fully supports the Division of Certificate of Public Need staff recommendation that was shared last month and believes the proposed project will provide timely emergency access to the citizens of northern Hanover and Ashland,” a statement from the company said. “We look forward to the Health Commissioner’s final recommendation in the coming months.”

The health commissioner’s decision could be made as early as October, HCA CEO Ryan Jensen told VPM News in an interview.

“We feel pretty confident with the level of support that we received from the community, from the elected officials and our EMS partners that there is a need to have this hospital,” Jensen said. “We've gotten the support that we need but will find out what happens in October.”

In their report, VDH staff shared concerns about HCA’s ability to accommodate its current patients and the proposed facility’s proximity to other HCA locations. The Ashland site is just six miles from another emergency room owned by HCA, called the Hanover ER, and in close proximity to an ER project in Scott’s Addition that the health department approved recently — a detail which Bon Secours criticized in a letter of opposition delivered to VDH staff.

In response to VDH’s written concerns, HCA proposed building a $39-million freestanding emergency room on the same site.

Jensen and his colleagues would need the county to approve rezoning the 39-acre property. Jensen and representatives of HCA met with Hanover residents on Monday to discuss the zoning issues and the project’s ongoing setbacks.

“We have to have meetings like this,” HCA COO Stephen Chandler told VPM News. “It’s required by the county’s zoning process, and we want to have meetings like this in order for us to get that feedback, to present the best proposal to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors to approve.”

The meeting at Chickahominy Middle School dispelled some of the confusion among residents regarding the state’s denial and the county’s ongoing zoning process.

As Hanover County Administrator John Budesky explained to the public during a July 26 supervisor meeting, the two processes occur in tandem.

“There are processes going on at the state level that's a step in a larger process,” Budesky said. “The county has to deal with the zoning issue, but the state process will be decided before it’s brought to the board.”

From a county perspective, HCA’s multimillion dollar proposal has received written support from Hanover’s Board of Supervisors, Hanover and Caroline County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, and residents asked questions about the project during Monday’s meeting.

“I think what's exciting about this project, and we shared this at the meeting, is that this won't be a standalone hospital,” Jensen said. “We can tie in quality programs that we have, and put those same programs into place into this new facility.”

Residents like Chris French, who raised questions about traffic during Monday’s meeting, said he’s looking forward to how the project shakes out.

“My hope with this particular project is that it gives folks in more rural areas, like Beaverdam or portions of Caroline County, greater access, so they don't have to drive to the central part of Henrico County or even central downtown Richmond,” French told VPM News.

French, a member of the Hanover NAACP, said no matter which project is approved by the state health commissioner, Hanover residents have recognized the need for more quick and easily accessible health services in rural areas.

“There's a wide recognition that we need more medical services within Hanover County; greater access and a new facility in this area will better serve some of the residents,” French said. “That's really important because in certain situations, minutes actually make a difference.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.