By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
Community Howard Regional Health will expand to become more of a regional health center following its affiliation with the Community Health Network.
Hospital officials announced this week a $23.1 million expansion of facilities in Kokomo and plans to open two urgent care centers and a spinal center in the future.
Howard Regional affiliated with the Community Health Network last year, promising it would become a regional center for Howard and surrounding counties. As part of the agreement, the new legal entity that was created assumed $50 million in debt.
James Alender, CEO of Community Howard, said the Community Health Network board approved the plan to construct a new Intensive Care Unit (ICU), build a third catheterization (Cath) lab and move MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) services to a permanent location.
The work is scheduled to begin within the next three months.
Alender said the second phase will include opening two urgent care centers, one in Howard County and a second outside of the county. The locations have not been determined. He said a spine center will be in Howard County. Once the locations are identified, Community Howard officials will request funding.
“With health care reform there will be an increase in people needing services,” he said. “We don’t want the volume diverted to the Emergency Room, which is the most expensive care we provide. We want patients to use the urgent care centers.”
He said a study of the medical services in Howard County and the five surrounding counties showed a need for growth.
“To serve those needs we are upgrading facilities,” Alender said. “This is a result of the growth we see and to strengthen our facilities.
“All this did was confirm what the region needed,” he continued. “We identified the needs and determined how to provide those services. Through our partnership with Community Health we wanted to provide those services in our community.”
Alender said the local board wanted to insure that patients would be treated in Kokomo rather than stabilized and transported to an Indianapolis hospital.
At the time of the affiliation with the Community Health Network, the Howard Regional board asked for capital improvements.
Alender said the strategic regional development plan identified a shortfall of primary care physicians in the area over the next five years. He said Community Howard will hire 20 more primary care physicians by 2017, hiring four a year beginning this year.
The ICU will move from the first to the second floor of the southeast circle and will expand from eight beds and four cardiovascular beds to 12 ICU beds and four cardiovascular beds.
Alender said the current ICU is operating at 85 percent capacity and at times has reached 100 percent, requiring the diversion of patients to other facilities.
The current ICU area will become a common waiting area. He said all three Cath labs will be moving to the first floor and instead of having a mobile MRI unit, it will now be housed in a building structure adjacent to the Emergency Department.