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Sentara announces plans for new North Suffolk hospital

Sentara Healthcare on Monday announced it plans a 24-bed hospital on the Sentara BelleHarbour campus on Bridge Road.

A growing number of people in the area, requests from residents and an increase in hospital admissions from BelleHarbour emergency visits prompted the implementation of a plan that has been in the works for years, Dr. Steve Julian, president of Sentara Obici Hospital, said Monday.

“It’s a number of factors,” Julian said of the plan at BelleHarbour, which is under the Obici umbrella. “We’ve had requests by many people in the community for inpatient capability at BelleHarbour. We’ve noticed our number of hospital admissions that come out of the BelleHarbour emergency room have gone up in the last couple of years. The population growth in that market is phenomenal, and the infrastructure the city has put in up there is just going to continue that growth.”

When a patient arrives at BelleHarbour and needs to be admitted for treatment or observation, they currently have to be transported to another hospital by ground or air ambulance. That’s stressful, costly and inefficient.

“If they were hospitalized at BelleHarbour rather than having to make the trip, that would work out pretty well,” Julian said.

The health care system notified the Virginia Department of Health it will apply for a Certificate of Public Need for 24 inpatient beds, two operating rooms and a CT scanner on the campus. A new, four-story, 92,000-square-foot building would house the rooms and equipment.

The announcement comes two weeks after a competing health system, Bon Secours, announced its intention to build its own inpatient hospital in nearby Harbour View. Bon Secours proposes transferring up to 25 hospital beds and four operating rooms from Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth to Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View.

It remains to be seen whether there is enough demand for both hospitals to get approved and utilized robustly, but Julian is confident in Sentara’s proposal.

“We do not look for fights,” he said. “We had this already as our plan. Patients need choice. We provide very high-quality care, very efficient care, very cost-effective care, and I think our record stands for itself.”

The Certificate of Public Need process requires projects to obtain the certificate from the state health commissioner, who determines whether a public need for the project exists. Criteria include the level of community support, the availability of reasonable alternatives, financial feasibility and whether the facility fosters institutional competition that benefits the community.

The hospital proposal is the latest move in a long history of health care in the area, Julian noted.

Many may not have realized that there were physicians operating in the North Suffolk area under the Obici umbrella as early as the 1980s, Julian stated.

Sentara and Obici Hospital merged in 2006. In 2008, the free-standing emergency room on Bridge Road was built. A number of other outpatient services have since been added to the North Suffolk campus, Julian noted, including physical therapy, a women’s imaging center, sleep center, non-invasive cardiology lab, full laboratory services, CT and MRI and physicians practicing primary care, general surgery, vascular surgery, cardiology and orthopedics.

“We’ve done that sequentially as the demand for services has warranted,” Julian stated. The current expansion is adding an ambulatory surgery center and a Federal Aviation Administration-approved helipad for medical helicopters.

It’s all part of a long-term master plan “that will set us up very well for the future needs of the community,” Julian said.

A new hospital in North Suffolk would allow some patients who would have otherwise gone to Obici to stay closer to home while not affecting services at Obici negatively, Julian said.

In a daily patient count at Obici, an average of about 14 of those patients originated from an emergency room visit to BelleHarbour, Julian said.

“We are well aware we can provide the services in both locations without a decrease in services at Obici,” Julian said.