Health systems face off in Butler-Warren expansions

Within a week of each other in April, the CEO of Cincinnati-based UC Health and the CEO of Dayton-based Premier Health were in Butler and Warren counties to celebrate their networks’ latest expansions in the northern Cincinnati suburbs.

UC Health, a group of hospitals and doctors affiliated with University of Cincinnati, in April opened a $10 million maternity unit at West Chester Hospital.

Nearby in Mason, nonprofit hospital and doctor system Premier Health opened an $11.5 million new emergency center.

Both projects are just the latest examples of growing hospital services in the area between Cincinnati and Dayton, where systems from both markets are competing head-to-head, giving residents more choices for care and the latest in medical technology.

“This is a growing area. The more people you have in an area, the more needs you’re going to have,” said Carol Turner, president and chief executive officer of Middletown hospital Atrium Medical Center, which is part of the Premier Health network.

“Our goal in moving further into Butler and Warren County is this is the growth corridor. There are a lot of working families. People, they want their care quick and they want it convenient,” Turner said.

Roughly $600 million has been invested in Greater Cincinnati health care facilities over the last 12 to 18 months, including projects currently under construction, according to Tanya Brownrigg, director of health care services for regional commercial real estate firm DTZ.

“The I-71 and 75 corridors, particularly, being the Butler-Warren county area, (there’s) an awful lot of big buildings going up,” Brownrigg told attendees of the recent April 16 Think Regional conference to promote regional collaboration.

“That’s driven by consumerism,” Brownrigg said.

“The health care industry is less driven by the workforce and more driven by the population. When it comes to facilities and where the health care firms are investing their money, and where you’re seeing the infrastructure being built, is where certain segments of the population are,” she said.

And local officials are still waiting to hear what The Christ Hospital Health Network has planned in Butler County. Christ Hospital spokeswoman Christa Moore said in November only that the network has made a significant commitment here.

Expect to see growth along the Interstate 75 corridor to continue, said Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and chief executive officer of UC Health, in an interview on the heels of West Chester Hospital’s ribbon cutting for maternity services.

“It’s only natural and fitting that there will be growth in all the infrastructure that makes a community vibrant and that includes education, roads… and part of that equation is access to quality health,” Lofgren said.

“I think we’re also going to continue to bring out a variety of specialty programs,” Lofgren said about his organization, giving the example of advanced cancer care.

In fact, UC Health is finalizing a deal with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to offer proton therapy services for adults in Liberty Twp., where Children's has already started construction on a proton therapy center for pediatric cancer care. Proton therapy is expected to open in Butler County in 2017.

Premier Health really began its expansion south when Middletown Regional Hospital joined the Dayton group in 2005 and the new Atrium Medical Center in Middletown was built, said James Pancoast, Premier’s president and chief executive. Atrium opened at the end of 2007 next to the Ohio 122/I-75 interchange.

Mason is about as far south as Premier plans to extend its reach, as the network has no intention of offering services in Hamilton County, Pancoast said.

In the Dayton market, Premier Health primarily contends with Kettering Health Network (which has made its own foray in the Cincinnati market by acquiring in 2010 Fort Hamilton Hospital). But especially south of Ohio 63, Premier and Kettering Health compete with more service providers including Mercy Health — Cincinnati, TriHealth and UC Health.

“We identify the communities the facilities serve and our mission is to help the communities we serve lead healthier lives,” Pancoast said.

“Our feeling is traditionally, you’re right, what we’re seeing is there’s a point where people watch Cincinnati stations and read Cincinnati papers versus Dayton,” he said.

“It’s trying to put things in we think will help people live a higher quality of (life) at lower cost. That’s what we’re focused on, versus just out-and-out trying to do more things.”

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