Court upholds decision to allow Rex to build new heart facility

Heart center clears hurdle, but WakeMed could still appeal

dbracken@newsobserver.comJanuary 15, 2013 

The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld the state’s decision to allow Rex Healthcare to build a new facility for its heart services on its main Raleigh campus.

Regulators with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services first approved the project in October 2010, but WakeMed has filed multiple appeals seeking to have the decision reversed.

WakeMed could still appeal the case to the state Supreme Court or file other petitions.

“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do,” Stan Taylor, vice president of corporate planning at WakeMed, said Tuesday.

Rex’s application calls for $120 million in upgrades, including expanding same-day surgery facilities and the construction of a heart and vascular center. The center will consolidate services now offered at seven locations throughout Rex, which is owned by UNC Health Care.

“Today’s decision by the court means we are one step closer to consolidating heart and vascular services at Rex Hospital,” Dr. Michael Zellinger, president of Wake Heart & Vascular, a practice affiliated with Rex and UNC, said in a statement. “This is great news for our patients and for our vision of heart and vascular care in this region.”

WakeMed, which operates a heart center that has long served as the hospital’s big money maker, argues that Rex’s center is an unnecessarily duplication of services that will only increase health care costs.

Taylor said the focus going forward should be less on new facilities and more on preventative medicine and better managing patients’ chronic conditions in order to reduce the need for major heart procedures. He said federal health care reform also is changing the way hospitals are being reimbursed, shifting the focus from individual procedures to patient outcomes

“We really think our role in the next ten years, especially with health care reform, is not to build new facilities but actually to work to keep people out of facilities in the first place,” Taylor said.

Erick Hawkins, vice president of heart and vascular services at Rex Healthcare and UNC Health Care, said in a statement that Rex’s new center will allow for more innovative patient care that is in line with the changing health care environment.

“Our vision is closely tied to the future of medicine, a future that’s based on quality outcomes for patients, not just the volume of patients treated,” he said.

The court’s ruling Tuesday does not address several other Rex applications that have been approved by the state’s Certificate of Need office but are now mired in the appeals process.

Those projects include building a 50-bed hospital in Holly Springs and spending $252.3 million to relocate 115 beds at its main campus in Raleigh to a new heart and stroke tower.

Those projects, along with two approved WakeMed expansions, are wrapped up in a single case that is expected to be heard by the Court of Appeals later this year. A ruling in the case isn’t like to come until early next year.

The applications were all submitted after state regulators determined that Wake County needed 101 new hospital beds over the next several years to keep up with increasing demand and the growing population.

The state allows only a fixed number of new hospital rooms to be built each year, and its decisions often result in fierce competition and endless appeals.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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