Center of debate

Center of debate

URBANA – Provena Covenant Medical Center is now fighting off two outpatient surgery center developments in Champaign-Urbana.

Late last month, dozens of Covenant supporters came to a state hearing to protest a proposed surgery center in Champaign that would be developed by Christie Clinic.

At another state hearing Tuesday, a handful of Covenant executives raised objections to another surgery center proposed for Urbana.

The Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board is set to take up both surgery center applications at a hearing in Chicago next month.

The subject of Tuesday's hearing was an outpatient surgery center with three operating rooms that would be built on the west side of North Lincoln Avenue, a block south of Bradley Avenue, by LeRoy-based surgery center developer Dr. Tom Pliura.

If his plans are approved by the state board, Pliura said, he would start construction in Urbana immediately and aim to have the facility up and running by late next year.

Covenant officials said their hospital has plenty of operating room capacity and both proposed surgery centers aren't needed in Champaign-Urbana.

And while Pliura's surgery center would have less of a financial impact on the hospital than Christie Clinic's facility would, Covenant officials say it still has the potential to wipe out the hospital's fledgling financial gains and prompt a slide back into the red.

Covenant, which is just emerging from several years of losses, projected the Christie Clinic surgery center would steal away $8 million of its annual surgery revenue.

The Pliura facility, as proposed, wouldn't take surgery cases from Covenant. However, hospital Chief Financial Officer Vicki Semanie expressed doubts that Pliura could drum up enough use for the Urbana surgery center without dipping into Covenant's patients.

That's because Pliura's application lists mostly out-of-town doctors as prospective users of the Urbana facility, and Semanie said it's doubtful out-of-town patients would drive to Urbana for their surgeries when they have facilities in their own communities. By Covenant's estimates, the Pliura facility could take about $700,000 of the hospital's surgery revenue a year, she said.

"That wouldn't happen," Pliura said, adding he knows of many patients traveling outside Champaign County to undergo procedures at out-of-town surgery centers.

"I disagree that this would have anything other than a negligible – if any – effect on Covenant," he said. "For them to argue that we're going to take patients from them, there's just nothing in the evidence to support that that's true."

Pliura argued his facility would provide Champaign County patients with choice, because there is currently just one free-standing outpatient surgery center in Champaign-Urbana, owned by Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic and located in Champaign.

Bloomington-Normal, by comparison, has five such facilities and a sixth one on the way, he said.

"The residents of Champaign County are way underserved for a surgery center," he said.

Pliura also said it's "nonsense" for Provena to contend that new outpatient surgery centers would be too large a financial hit for Covenant to bear, given the resources of Covenant's parent company, Provena Hospitals.

The six-hospital system is reporting a $31.3 million profit for 2005.

"I think the most important thing that this community needs is competition" Pliura said. "Health care providers should not fear competition. They should welcome it."

Dr. Ron Russo, a Champaign plastic surgeon and the only local doctor Pliura has listed as a potential physician user of the Urbana surgery center, addressed claims that the need for surgery space in Champaign County is already met. "I'm here to tell you, that's not true," he said.

Russo said he does most of his outpatient surgeries at the Carle surgery center, but since Carle hospital transferred part of the ownership of that facility to Carle Clinic, he's had less time available there because clinic doctors are using it more.

"The patients of Champaign-Urbana are not being adequately served," he said.

Proposed surgicenter

What's at stake: A new $5.1 million outpatient surgery center with three operating rooms on the west side of North Lincoln Avenue, one block south of Bradley Avenue, Urbana.

Developer: LeRoy-based surgery center owner/developer Dr. Tom Pliura.

Who objects: Provena Covenant Medical Center.

Who decides: Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which would have to certify the development of the facility before it can be built.

Decision time frame: Set for hearing before the planning board Oct.24-25 in Chicago. Deadline for submitting written testimony to the planning board is Oct. 4, according to state hearing officer.