July 30, 2008

WakeMed, Rex Want to Add More Beds

By Sabine Vollmer, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Jul. 30--Even as an out-of-town rival bids to build a new hospital in southwestern Wake County, the county's two largest hospitals have big plans of their own.

Novant Health, which is based in Winston-Salem, announced last week that it plans to seek state approval to build a $110 million, 46-bed hospital in Holly Springs.

But before Novant can move ahead, it will have to prove that its project is better than rival proposals by WakeMed and Rex Healthcare.

WakeMed, the county's largest hospital, wants to build a $34 million women's hospital at its North Raleigh campus. And Rex wants to add obstetrics and inpatient surgery bed at its campus in west Raleigh. Rex declined to say how much the project will cost.

All three medical providers are vying to win favor with state regulators, who must approve such projects. Those regulators have already ruled that Wake County needs 41 new hospital beds based on factors such as projected population growth and demand.

The bids must be filed with the state's certificate of need office by Aug. 15. A decision is likely by the end of January. The losers are likely to appeal. The battle for the beds could last years. "We think we've come up with a better proposal," said Stan Taylor, WakeMed's vice president of corporate planning.

Rex, which is owned by UNC Healthcare, wants to add the beds on its Raleigh campus -- 26 of them in obstetrics and 15 to boost capacity for inpatient surgeries. Demand for both services is already higher than the number of patients Rex can accommodate, said hospital spokeswoman Melody Hunter-Pillion.

"We need the beds now," Hunter-Pillion said.

WakeMed executives believe that Holly Springs doesn't need more facilities. Expansions worth $45 million are about to come on line at WakeMed facilities in Cary and Apex, which serve the Holly Springs area, Friberg said.

"We feel very positive that we meet the needs" in the western part of the county, she said. "Now, we have to turn our focus to the northern part of the county."

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