NCH Healthcare looks to block rural community's 25-bed microhospital plans

Beau Braden, DO, who owns and manages a clinic in Ave Maria, Fla., told The New York Times the state recently approved his plans to build a 25-bed microhospital for patients in southwest Florida. However, a larger area hospital is reportedly pulling out all the stops to prevent the facility from being built.

Here are six things to know:

1. Dr. Braden told The New York Times that the rural area of Collier County, Fla., boasts fewer hospital beds per person than Afghanistan. He said he sought to build a 25-bed facility to serve the roughly 50,000 people who live in the rural farming community of Immokalee, Fla., and nearby Ave Maria — communities that lack access to 24-hour medical care, he said.

2. However, the communities' efforts to build the facility have been strongly opposed by Naples, Fla.-based NCH Healthcare System, which petitioned the state earlier this year to rescind its approval for the hospital. The state approved Dr. Braden's certificate of need application to build the facility in June.

3. NCH Healthcare argued in a 50-page opposition statement that a microshospital is "a project doomed to fail" and would siphon away patients and revenue from the system. Officials argued the system's two hospitals in Naples provide adequate care and medical resources to Immokalee residents.

4. NCH Healthcare, which did not respond to The New York Times' requests for comment, also questioned Dr. Braden's experience running a financially struggling clinic and whether he would be prepared to take on the responsibilities associated with running a small hospital that would predominantly serve uninsured individuals. Particular challenges facing the small hospital, like shrinking populations, financial strains and corporate consolidations, have caused similar rural facilities to shut down in recent years. An estimated 87 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, the report states.

5. Despite the challenges, Dr. Braden said the communities need a closer health facility. According to him, infant death rates in Immokalee rose 12 percent between 2015 and 2017, as did stroke deaths and out-of-hospital births, which rose more than 164 percent during the past three years.

6. With NCH Healthcare's challenge to the state's approval, Dr. Braden said it could take at least six months of hearings before the dispute is resolved. Legal bills from the ordeal could amount to at least $600,000, the report states. However, Dr. Braden said he refuses to back down.

"I refuse to stop," he told The New York Times. "[The people have] been trying to get a hospital in their community for 50 years. I'll bring all of what I can to make sure this injustice stops."

To access the full report, click here.

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