After a delay of nearly a year, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. plans to resume construction this month on a $48 million, 50-bed hospital in Orem, Utah.
A spokeswoman for the Nashville, Tenn.-based hospital chain said the delay stemmed from the legal residue of Columbia's 1995 merger with Healthtrust. The groundbreaking for the new hospital occurred in August 1995, but construction was halted shortly thereafter.
Twinkle Chisolm, a spokeswoman for Columbia's Utah division, blamed the delay on the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust settlement with Columbia that allowed the Healthtrust merger to go through. She said Columbia had to wait until all the settlement's terms were met because the new facility originally was a Healthtrust project rather than a Columbia project unrelated to the merger.
Even without the FTC obstacle, the company may have delayed construction anyway because of skyrocketing construction prices in Utah County, where Orem is located, Chisolm said.
She said construction prices were affected when Micron Technology, a computer chip maker based in Boise, Idaho, began construction on a $2.5 billion plant in nearby Lehi, Utah. Micron put the project on hold in February.
Since con-struction first began on the new hospital, the number of beds in Columbia's facility has been reduced from 54 to 50, Chisolm said.
New construction is not Columbia's typical style. The Orem facility is one of only three the company is building from the ground up. But a new tack was needed in Utah after the FTC settlement forced Columbia to divest three of its Utah hospitals before it could merge with Healthtrust, which owned several competing Utah hospitals.
The delay slowed the much anticipated head-to-head competition between Columbia and Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health Care, the state's largest provider. Not-for-profit Intermountain owns 20 hospitals in Utah, including a 20-bed community facility in Orem.
Columbia's new hospital is now scheduled to be completed in early 1998 rather than early 1997. Both Columbia and Intermountain are gearing up again for the turf war.
Columbia is betting that payers and physicians want more choices in the area. "We are excited about being that alternative," said Dan J. Brothman, president of Columbia's Utah division. "Orem is a rapidly growing community, and Columbia is positioning itself to be the provider of highest quality healthcare in the most cost-efficient manner to the people of Utah County."
Intermountain, meanwhile, says it does not plan to make major changes in its healthcare delivery. "We're for competition," said Daron Cowley, a spokesman for Intermountain. "We believe that they've been strong competitors around the country. But we believe that we're in a position to be a strong competitor in our market and in the state."