Bon Secours Health System is on the move again, this time hoping to relocate another one of its urban Virginia hospitals to the suburbs.
The proposed move continues a pattern at the Roman Catholic system of seeking greener pastures for some of its urban facilities.
On July 1, Bon Secours filed a certificate-of-need application with the state, seeking permission to move 158-bed Bon Secours-Stuart Circle Hospital from Richmond to a new $70.3 million, 130-bed replacement hospital in the affluent and growing suburb of Midlothian in Chesterfield County.
Part of the reason for Bon Secours' move is that Stuart Circle has been running at less than 50% occupancy, said James Goss, a spokesman for Bon Secours in Richmond.
"We want to move the hospital where the patients are," he said.
Last year, Marriottsville, Md.-based Bon Secours moved its 259-bed Richmond (Va.) Memorial Hospital to suburban Hanover County. The new replacement hospital is 272-bed Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville.
And in 1996, Bon Secours moved its St. Francis Xavier Hospital from downtown Charleston, S.C., to the burgeoning suburb of West Ashley, S.C., building a 198-bed, $43 million replacement hospital there.
Peggy Moseley, a Bon Secours spokeswoman, said such relocations are not part of any corporate strategy, nor do they undercut the system's charitable mission.
"It expands our ability to provide services," Moseley said. "We haven't left the city of Richmond. We will still have one hospital located in the city and another very close to the border."
John Simpson, senior vice president of operations for Bon Secours' Richmond operation, said the system has discussed building a hospital southwest of Richmond for years.
"We're very strong north of the James River," Simpson said. "It has been our intent and our strategic plan to develop a system for the entire region. We have to have a presence south of the river if we are going to be a complete system for the Richmond metropolitan area."
Bon Secours acquired Stuart Circle in 1994, right after its chief rival in Richmond, for-profit giant Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., purchased Retreat Hospital, about one mile away from Stuart Circle. Bon Secours paid for-profit Quorum Health Group $31.6 million for the facility.
According to the Central Virginia Health Planning Agency, Stuart Circle reported a profit of $1.1 million on revenues of $62.2 million in fiscal 1997, the last year for which figures are available.
Simpson said the successful relocation of Richmond Memorial last year has encouraged the system to follow suit with Stuart Circle.
Chesterfield County has a population of 250,000 with a median household income of $53,479. By comparison, the city of Richmond has a population of 200,000, with a median household income of $30,017.
Despite that, Goss said, there are "pockets of high need" in western Chesterfield County and neighboring Powhatan County, which has 25,000 people and no acute-care facility.
"Richmond is shrinking and has been for years," Goss said. "We'll provide almost $18 million in community commitment services this year and will continue that next year. We obviously want to expand that into Chesterfield County."
However, some say the greater need is in Richmond.
"There's certainly more of a need for charity care in downtown Richmond than where (Bon Secours) plans to move," said Karen Cameron, executive director of the Central Virginia Health Planning Agency, the regional CON authority.
Chesterfield County already has a hospital, 282-bed Johnston-Willis Hospital, owned by Columbia.
Bon Secours co-owns an ambulatory surgery center in Chesterfield County through a joint venture with Quorum-managed Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg, Va. Stuart Circle's replacement hospital would be about 10 miles from the surgery center and about 7 miles from Columbia's Johnston-Willis.
The move might benefit Columbia's 146-bed Retreat Hospital. Observers expect a move would leave Retreat with less competition and more referrals.
Columbia bought Retreat, then a freestanding not-for-profit, in 1994. Retreat lost $1.5 million on revenues of $65.4 million in fiscal 1997, according to the Central Virginia Health Planning Agency.
Bon Secours' move will not increase the number of indigent patients treated at Retreat and nearby Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, the city's only academic medical center, said Carl Fischer, chief executive officer at MCV Hospitals.
Mark Foust, a spokesman for Columbia's Richmond operations, said the company is still reviewing Bon Secours' CON application and could not say whether Columbia would challenge the Catholics' move.
"Competition is alive and well in Chesterfield County," Foust said. "County residents found their way to 17 hospitals last year, and they weren't all Columbia hospitals."
Foust added that building a new hospital will add cost to the healthcare system without adding new services. He said the greater Richmond market already has too many beds.
Bon Secours has not yet decided what to do with the Stuart Circle facility if the move is approved by the state, Goss said.
Public hearings on the proposal are expected to begin in September.