Would adding hospital beds reduce East End development in Middletown?

If Middletown City Council agrees with the Middletown Planning Commission’s decision to allow Kettering Health Network to add overnight stays at its Middletown facility, it would be a game-changer for the city.

But will the decision enhance the growth of Middletown’s East End or damage the city’s relationship with Atrium Medical Center, its top employer?

Depends on who you believe.

About 100 people ate dinner late Wednesday night when the planning commission meeting, which typically lasts less than two hours, dragged on for nearly four hours as 18 people, including Atrium and Kettering hospital officials, employees and local residents, testified before a packed Council Chambers.

The planning commission voted 4-1 to approve the rezoning request that will permit Kettering to add beds to its Middletown facility.

Now the decision that will frame the future of the city falls in the laps of city council members, who will either approve or reject the rezoning request at its Dec. 18 meeting. Get there early and pack a sandwich.

Throughout Wednesday night’s meeting, Atrium officials repeated they’re not afraid of competing against Kettering Health Network Middletown, which opened in August. Kettering officials said patients at their Middletown facility should be allowed to be admitted without being transferred to another Kettering Health facility in Hamilton or Kettering.

Since opening, Kettering has hired 100 employees and served 6,000 patients, said Daniel Tryon, Kettering Health Network Middletown executive director/administrator. He added that in the past two years, 13,078 Middletown residents, or about 25 percent of its population, have chosen Kettering Health Network for their medical care.

Several residents said that Atrium does not accept some health insurance plans, including those available through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. That issue and the economic impact also concerned some planning commission members who felt choice and access were critical to the underserved in the city.

Regardless of what people want you to believe, this debate centers around competition. Because of its 100-history in the city, its extensive community commitment and its $1.5 million in payroll taxes, Atrium is the Big Brother in Middletown.

Meanwhile, Kettering, the newbie, must feel like the Little Brother.

There are those who don’t believe Middletown is economically vibrant enough to support two hospitals. They said that about 80 percent of the patients at both medical facilities receive government assistance.

Atrium officials have opposed the rezoning request, saying it would duplicate services and there are more than enough hospital beds available at their facility less than one mile away.

David Pearce, former board member at Middletown Regional Hospital, said there’s no “compelling reason” for Middletown to have two full-service hospitals. How can Middletown, he said, support two hospitals when it can’t even attract a Starbucks? Bad comparison, but you get the idea.

His biggest fear: In five to 10 years, one of the hospitals will close because of a low census, leaving another vacant property in the East End, what he called the “front door” of the community.

“What are we going to be left with?” he asked.

He referenced the closed Target store on Roosevelt Avenue and the Towne Mall Galleria, which is struggling to attract tenants, as eyesores.

It’s ironic, Pearce said, that the future of Atrium is being questioned about 15 years after the board decided to build a $300 million hospital in the city when Middletown Regional Hospital closed. He said several members of the board wanted the hospital built on Greentree Road in Monroe, closer to the more affluent areas of Mason, Lebanon, West Chester and Liberty Twp.

Board members who wanted the hospital to stay in Middletown took “a real hit” and “it was not a popular decision,” he said.

Pearce believes Atrium should be the “lead dog” in the development of the East End.

Fred DeBiasi, president and CEO of the American Savings Bank, said adding beds would create “economic disaster,” not economic development.

“That’s where we are heading,” he said.

Joe Bidwell, a former Atrium board president, said “too many beds would be devastating” to the community.

Atrium President Mike Uhl said if the city allows Kettering Health Network to add beds, Atrium may not be able to expand services as it has promised.

Having two full-service hospitals less than one mile apart, Uhl said, would create “two losers.”

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