Competing projects discussed at hearing

Published 1:04 am Saturday, September 29, 2018

Dozens of doctors, hospital and city officials and other local leaders gathered on Thursday in the meeting room at the Major Hillard Library in Chesapeake to witness presentations of competing Certificate of Public Need applications from Bon Secours Health System and Sentara Healthcare.

The Virginia COPN program requires owners and sponsors of medical care facility projects to secure a COPN from the State Health Commissioner prior to initiating projects, such as those that have been proposed by Bon Secours and Sentara.

This Virginia Health Department program is meant to contain health care costs while ensuring financial viability and health care access at a reasonable cost, according to


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The two applications are “in competition” based on the program’s rules, which specify that “applications for the same or similar services which are proposed for the same planning district or medical service area shall be considered as competing applications by the commissioner,” according to an email from Erik Bodin, director of the Virginia COPN program.

Both proposals are for acute care hospitals in Planning District 20, Bodin wrote. The sites for these projects are at campuses that are approximately one mile away from each other in North Suffolk.

COPN staff will issue a review with their recommendation on Oct. 19, according to Bodin. In certain cases, such as if either or both projects are denied or there is a petition from a third party, an administrative judge will weigh in.

Representatives from Sentara and Bon Secours took turns at the podium to illustrate the benefits of their respective projects for Suffolk and surrounding areas. Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson, Chesapeake Mayor Rick West and Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe Jr. also had remarks, along with roughly a dozen other registered speakers.

The Bon Secours team outlined its proposed in-patient care hospital at the Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View. The roughly 75,000-square-foot building would feature 18 acute care beds, four general purpose operating rooms and one CT scanner, according to Paul Gaden, chief executive officer of Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth and Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center in Norfolk.

The total capital cost of the Bon Secours project is estimated at $77 million. The project has received a total of 650 letters and more than 1,050 signatures of support as of Thursday.

“To continue our mission of providing good help to those in need, we feel strongly in our fastest-growing service area we serve out of Maryview and Harbour View that a small hospital is the next logical step for us, for the community and for our patients,” Gaden said.

Both projects aim to provide in-patient care to members of the community that’s convenient for both patients and their doctors. Gaden said there are many physician practices that are located at the Harbour View Campus, along with a robust list of comprehensive services.

The goal of this new Bon Secours facility is a focused, surgical hospital that offers full-spectrum ambulatory care, Gaden said. He described it as an “innovative model” that will uniquely serve the community while Bon Secours continues to invest in programs at the Maryview campus.

“Maryview is the anchor for our Harbour View campus,” Gaden said. “Maryview is the only civilian hospital that we have in Portsmouth. It’s extremely important for our primary and secondary services there.

“The success of Maryview and the sustainability is directly correlated to a successful Harbour View campus.”

One of the keys to that success is adapting to how surgical care has rapidly developed in the past few decades. According to Dr. Anhtai Nguyen, the chief medical officer of the Bon Secours Maryview and DePaul medical centers, complex cases that previously required seven to 10 days of inpatient stay in the hospital have dropped to just one to three days of observation.

Nguyen argued that adding this facility would allow Bon Secours to care effectively for patients that need same-day surgeries.

“I think this would be a win-win for the patients that we serve, and also for attracting medical and surgical staff to the area by having the capability to take care of this population,” he said.

The population in the North Suffolk community has grown exponentially over the years. It’s also gotten “grayer,” according to Dr. Steve Julian, president of Sentara Obici Hospital and its subsidiaries, Sentara BelleHarbour and Sentara St. Luke’s in Isle of Wight County.

“The 65-plus-year-old cohort is the fastest-growing segment of the population, and as can be predicted, is also the highest segment for health care visits, including in-patient care,” Julian said. “This population also faces the most difficult logistics challenges at accessing such care, exactly the circumstance in which this proposal addresses.”

The Sentara proposal is for an in-patient acute care hospital with 24 acute care beds, two general purpose operating rooms and one CT scanner at the Sentara BelleHarbour Campus on Bridge Road.

The project would be an investment of $32 million and has received more than 1,500 signatures of support from residents as of Thursday, along with letters of support from Western Tidewater Free Clinic and other organizations.

Julian emphasized the efficiency of their endeavor. The project is being funded through “accumulated reserves” with a target opening date of May 2020. Acute care services will also be available to the community within less than 16 months of COPN approval, he said.

Furthermore, 20 beds will be relocated from Obici Hospital to the BelleHarbour campus for the project, optimizing existing resources across the geographic area, he said.

“(This) also supports excellent coordination and continuity of care as patients transition between in-patient and outpatient services on the same campus,” he said. “A simple, one-stop medical destination.”

Among those in support of Sentara’s application on Thursday was Philip McNeil, chief rabbi at Temple Beth El on Bridge Road, which leases the BelleHarbour land across the street to Sentara.

McNeil said that Temple Beth El has sponsored more than 500 housing units in recent years in proximity to the BelleHarbour campus, many of which were for elderly residents. He said the BelleHarbour facility has been an “invaluable resource” and a “blessing” to many members of his congregation.

“We would love to see these services expand to include inpatient care. That would be a fitting and much needed addition to the BelleHarbour campus,” he said. “It will significantly improve access to much needed acute care for these area patients, especially the elderly ones who currently have to travel outside of the community in order to get inpatient hospital care.”

Mayors West and Rowe both expressed support for the Bon Secours project. But Johnson spoke about the merits of both applications.

“The population in northern Suffolk is rapidly growing and will only continue to grow,” she said. “We currently have 1,000 residential units under construction with more planned and permitted each year. These new residents and our existing citizens will benefit from both proposed medical projects, allowing for complete, comprehensive medical care and the opportunity for more options for current patients.”

She said that it’s “fortunate” to have two requests for acute-care medical facilities in North Suffolk.

“It is my request that the Virginia Department of Health does not see these requests as competing but reviews each on their merit and on the positive impacts they will both have on the residents in the surrounding communities of Suffolk, Smithfield, Chesapeake and Portsmouth,” she said.