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The state decision was the latest setback for the Salem hospital in its ongoing effort to open an intensive care unit that could care for ill or premature babies.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
For the second time in two years, the state health commissioner has denied LewisGale Medical Center’s request to open a neonatal intensive care unit.
“I find that it is not necessary to meet a public need,” Dr. Cynthia Romero wrote in a decision dated Tuesday.
The decision was the latest setback for LewisGale in its long-running attempt to open an intensive care unit at its Salem hospital that could treat up to eight ill or prematurely born infants.
Such a project would needlessly duplicate existing services in the area, including a 60-bed NICU at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Romero found.
“We are very disappointed and are currently evaluating this decision to determine how we will proceed from here,” LewisGale spokeswoman Nancy May said in an email Thursday.
One possibility is a legal challenge.
Before it could open a second NICU in the region, LewisGale had to request a certificate of public need from the state health department.
By having the state determine whether a need exists for certain facilities, the goal is to contain health care costs while ensuring that expensive medical projects will be financially viable.
Not only was there not a sufficient public need for the LewisGale NICU, Romero wrote, it would also result in at least a two-year financial loss and “its economic viability is readily questionable.”
In support of its application, LewisGale had argued that the number of births it handled increased by 74 percent from 2009 to 2011.
Having a NICU on site was important to the hospital, it said, because pregnant women might choose to go elsewhere if there was no assurance of immediate specialized care.
The hospital had proposed spending about $3.6 million to build the unit using existing space in its maternity ward.
After being denied a certificate of public need in 2011 by former health commissioner Karen Remley, LewisGale resubmitted its application with updated information. It also launched a more public campaign, circulating petitions and enlisting the support of patients, businesses and elected officials.
“Despite many, some quite impassioned, expressions of community support, a dispassionate review of the facts” shows the project is not necessary, Romero found.
The birth rate in the surrounding region is declining, the commissioner noted, and the NICU at Roanoke Memorial has just a 73 percent occupancy rate.
Carilion had opposed LewisGale’s plans, saying it has the capacity to care for the region’s infants in need of intensive care.
Even as LewisGale submitted a second application, it filed a challenge to Remley’s 2011 denial in Salem Circuit Court. That case remains pending.
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