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New hospital cost issues loom

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are expected to be added to the cost of a proposed $85 million hospital as state officials mull over whether a new health center is needed in Lincoln County.
Almost one month after their initial request was denied, Carolinas Medical Center-Lincoln officials attended a crucial appeal hearing Monday in Raleigh which will ultimately decide the fate of the proposed 171,000-square-foot facility that needs a mandatory permit known as a certificate of need to move forward.
After a nearly two-hour hearing with Lee Hoffman – an official within the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services who is the final arbiter of the decision – no decision was rendered and it could be several months before local health officials get an answer.
“They appeared interested and receptive,” said Pete Acker, CMC-Lincoln President and CEO, who attended the hearing. “We were not expecting a decision, however.”
The delay could be costly to CMC-Lincoln and Carolina Healthcare Systems, who are overseeing the joint venture.
Each month inflationary costs for labor and materials could add as much as $300,000 to the total project cost, Acker said.
In September, CHS agreed to invest as much as $100 million to expand and update services at the new facility. If the project is denied, Acker said CHS has indicated it will use the money for renovations at CMC-Lincoln, located on Gamble Drive in Lincolnton.
The initial request was denied in July because DHHS analysts believed the 10-year projected population and patient growth figures were inflated for Lincoln, one of the fastest growing areas in the state.
Acker said that Hoffman was provided with the most current figures based on N.C. Department of Transportation data and hoped that the new information would be enough to overturn the original decision.
“It was an opportunity to run by her new updated information that we felt would be beneficial in addressing their concerns,” said Acker. “Fortunately, 2006 was a year we experienced growth here.”
While the number of beds would remain the same as the current hospital, Acker said a new and improved facility would service more patients because they would be less likely to seek healthcare outside of the county, as well as continue to attract quality physicians and other professionals.
by Olin Ericksen

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