The state of Alabama has acted with broadband speed to clear the way for HealthSouth Corp. to build an "all-digital" hospital in its corporate hometown of Birmingham.
Gov. Donald Siegelman signed a bill last week that waived the state's certificate-of-need process for the $240 million, 219-bed hospital, which will replace 169-bed HealthSouth Medical Center, Birmingham. HealthSouth and database-softwaremaker Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., have teamed up to develop what they call the latest "hospital of the future," in which all patient and other records will be fully electronic (April 2, p. 28).
HealthSouth officials had threatened to move the project out of Alabama if the CON process weren't waived. "Without the legislation, construction of the facility would have been delayed and might have possibly forced a relocation to another state," Siegelman said in a written statement.
Richard Scrushy, HealthSouth's chairman and chief executive officer, said the project couldn't afford to wait the six to 10 years that the CON process can take if a competitor challenges the approval.
"It was not a threat. It was a reality," Scrushy said. "If I'm going to build a digital hospital with Oracle, and we're investing money, we're not going to wait 10 years, and neither would they. It's just business. In 10 years, I hope I'm retired. I'd like to build it during my career."
Alabama's CON law requires approval before the opening of new healthcare facilities or offering of new services in existing facilities. The CON waiver law was passed earlier this month during a special session of the Legislature convened to draw new election boundaries based on 2000 census data.
Some hospital executives in the state, most notably John Nickens III, president and chief executive officer of 497-bed Brookwood Medical Center, Birmingham, cried foul when the waiver bill was introduced last month. But provisions were added to the initial bill that allayed some of the concerns outlined by Nickens, whose hospital is owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif.
With the waiver in place, construction is expected to begin next year, in hopes of opening the hospital by late 2003.