A hospital group that wants to add an emergency room and other services to an existing clinic is awaiting a federal judge's ruling on the county's ban on building new medical facilities within its borders. Indianapolis-based St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers filed a federal lawsuit after Morgan County imposed a temporary ban to help ensure the financial health of county-run Morgan Hospital and Medical Center in Martinsville. Closing arguments ended Wednesday.
The decision could have implications across the state as at least five other Indiana counties have adopted similar ordinances in an effort to protect their public hospitals.
In testimony this week before federal Judge David Hamilton, St. Francis officials said the moratorium has cast doubt on plans for a $490 million expansion of its Mooresville campus, including an emergency room, more nursing units, a surgery department and office space. Morgan County Commissioner Jeff Quyle said he considered the ban a way to gain local control of what he views as an unregulated market with large hospital groups expanding into outlying areas, such as his county southwest of Indianapolis.
Indiana's 37 community- or city-owned hospitals find themselves under growing financial pressures as they face competition from lower-cost, stand-alone clinics and surgical centers, said Bob Morr, spokesman for Indiana Hospital and Health Association. "It will perhaps set a precedent if the judge finds that the broader issue can be handled at a local level," Morr said.