USA surgery center proposal challenged


FAIRHOPE – A proposal to build a new surgery center in Fairhope is being considered by the state with local residents, medical professionals and officials expressing support and opposition.

In July, USA Health announced plans to build a multi-specialty Ambulatory Surgical Center on the southeast corner of Alabama 181 and Alabama 104. The facility is planned on an eight-acre site donated to the University of South Alabama by Louis and Melinda Mapp of Point Clear.

After plans were announced, however, Infirmary Health Systems, which operates Thomas Hospital in Fairhope challenged the application for a Certificate of Need, the state permit needed to open a medical facility.

The state hearing on the certificate began Monday and is expected to continue for about two weeks, a USA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Supporters of the proposal have organized a petition drive to endorse plans for the center. As of Tuesday, the petition had 3,259 signatures, according to the project website.

D. Mark Nix, president and chief executive officer of Infirmary Health, said the new center would disrupt the existing healthcare system in Baldwin County and would have a negative financial impact on Thomas Hospital.

“Thomas Hospital has served the medical needs of central Baldwin County for over 60 years. Along with all the existing healthcare providers in this county, Thomas Hospital has demonstrated a significant financial commitment to all residents of Baldwin County, regardless of their individual financial status, by expanding medical services and enhancing access to quality healthcare to all,” Nix said. “The potential dilution of surgical cases at Thomas Hospital and the three existing free-standing ambulatory surgery centers, all located within 10 miles of the proposed USA facility, would have a long lasting and detrimental impact on the existing healthcare providers in the county and will impede their ability to provide future needed services as the county grows.”

Medical professionals also sent letters to the Certificate of Needs Board supporting the new facility.

Dr. Michael Change, chief medical officer at USA Health, said system employees provide the highest level of medical care to patients.

“Moreover, as with many USA Health employees, I have chosen to make Baldwin County my home,” Change said, “Due to my unique insight as a resident of Baldwin County and a member of USA Health's leadership team, I am acutely aware of the shortages that currently exist for certain healthcare services in Baldwin County. I know that USA Health is more than capable of filling this gap by providing Baldwin County residents with the same excellent outpatient surgical services at the proposed ASC as are currently provided to citizens of Mobile County.”

Local officials were also divided on the issue. Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack, Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood and Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson wrote to oppose the certificate.

Thomas Hospital and the other hospital providers in Baldwin County have demonstrated over many years a commitment to enhancing access and services for

all residents of the county,” Wilson said in her letter. “The proposed dilution of the surgical cases associated with this proposed surgery center will have a detrimental impact on the comprehensive hospital providers in Baldwin County, and will impede their ability to grow needed services as the county grows. Again, I strongly oppose this project.”

Members of the Baldwin County Legislative Delegation endorsed the proposal for the new medical center. In a letter, Sen. Greg Albritton and five representatives, Steve McMillan, Harry Shiver, Joe Faust, Matt Simpson and Alan Baker, expressed their support.

This project by an affiliate of the University of South Alabama Health System will provide increased access and timely care to patients in need of outpatient surgical services,” the letter signed by the six legislators said. “I am strongly in favor of increasing access to the world-class services offered by USA Heath and offering a wide range of services on land owned by the University of South Alabama.”