Cliff Peale and Lisa Bernard-Kuhn report:
The expansion of UC Health is accelerating, from Florence to Trenton, from babies to proton beams.
Created in 2010 from the remnants of the collapsing Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, the system set up by the University of Cincinnati is poised to spend more than $300 million during the next few years, at the same time it’s slashing expenses to try to get more efficient.
Every big health system in the region is pursuing the same seemingly opposite goals, nudged by the looming specter of health care reform to take effect in 2014 and the relentless march toward consolidation of doctors and services under huge corporate umbrellas.
“You’re going to hear us talking about cutting expenses,” UC Health Chief Executive Officer Jim Kingsbury told a UC College of Medicine gathering Monday. “On the other hand, you’ll hear us talking about spending as much as $135 million to expand West Chester (hospital). Those are not inconsistent.”
Details of the UC Health expansion, first reported Tuesday on Cincinnati.com, include:
- A second patient tower at West Chester Hospital, which could take up to three years to complete. It will include obstetrics and maternity services, which are not offered now at the four-year-old hospital off Tylersville Road.
- New primary care offices and ambulatory centers as far south as Florence and as north as Trenton. That will fuel an expansion at UC Physicians that will include more than 300 new doctors during the next five years. Kingsbury said it’s already submitted an application to Kentucky officials for the Florence facility, although the exact site is yet to be determined.
- A “proton beam” facility to treat cancer and other disease in partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, to be housed in a new building on the UC/Children’s medical campus in Corryville or in Butler County.
- A new adolescent residential wing at the Lindner Center of Hope in Mason, which is half-owned with the Lindner Family Foundation but operated by UC Health. Owners are raising money for the expansion now.
- A soon-to-be-announced partnership to staff clinics inside local retail stores.
- Growth in targeted areas or specialties. Examples: A new Women’s Center that just opened in West Chester and the growing UC Cancer Institute, which already has received more than $60 million in commitments or cash from UC and UC Health, with the health system planning an additional $30 million during the next five years.
As in nearly every health system in the region, cost cutting in one part of the operation will fuel new investments elsewhere.
Earlier this month, Ohio’s largest health system, Catholic Health Partners, confirmed that it has started a restructuring that will trim scores of jobs. Locally, the health system operates six hospitals as Mercy Health in Hamilton, Clermont and Butler counties.
The cuts include consolidations in the Downtown-based system’s information technology department and the closing of Mercy Franciscan Terrace by June 1, cutting 165 jobs. Still, the system is expanding elsewhere with plans for hiring in other areas. For example, the company recently hired 50 employees its Corporate Physician Business Center in Blue Ash and has hundreds of job openings across the health system.
The restructuring “will prepare us to deliver health care in the totally different manner that the future will require,” Michael Boehmer told The Enquirer last week.
Evidence of the jockeying for market share by the areas’ big health systems can be seen from interstates across the region.
Construction is underway on new towers at Cincinnati Children’s and Christ Hospital.
In Montgomery, Christ recently announced plans to open a three-story outpatient center – in step with similar investments made in recent years in Anderson Township, Fort Wright, Green Township and Madisonville.
In Oakley, Mercy Health is putting the finishing touches on a new outpatient center overlooking Interstate 71. It’s working to expand Jewish Hospital in Kenwood. And by October, it will open Mercy Hospital West, a 250-bed facility in Green Township.
Not all of the changes involve construction. TriHealth earlier this year purchased a surgical center in Butler County.
The race for market share has also included a rash of acquisitions of physician groups and specialty physicians by each of the big health systems. Of the 924 primary care physicians practicing across the region, more than 80 percent have been acquired by a local health system in the last three years, according to data from the Health Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati.
UC Health includes UC Medical Center, the Drake Center and the UC Physicians doctors’ group. It is chaired by Enquirer President and Publisher Margaret Buchanan.
UC Health is critical to UC’s Academic Health Center, which provides about half of UC’s $1.1 billion budget. The health system feeds more than $40 million a year into the College of Medicine.
“There isn’t a first-rate medical school that exists in the absence of a strong hospital,” UC President Santa Ono said.
For the current year that ends June 30, UC Health will lose about $14.1 million on operations, Kingsbury said.
That includes a $20 million investment in an electronic medical records system, plus millions to recruit new doctors and expand UC Medical Center.
But next year, the system expects to post operating income of nearly $27 million, Kingsbury said.