Lawrence planning policy would be less friendly to prospective new hospitals and be more protective of Lawrence Memorial Hospital under a proposal backed Tuesday by city commissioners.
Commissioners, without comment, asked the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to review a proposed amendment to Horizon 2020, Douglas County's long-range planning guide.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said the amendment would clarify the city's stance in the wake of a bruising battle in the late 1990s regarding Columbia/HCA Healthcare's attempt to establish a second hospital in Lawrence.
Columbia sued the city and LMH in 1997 after the commission refused to approve the company's plans. Columbia abandoned its efforts in spring 1999.
Horizon 2020 originally was approved in 1996, with only three sentences to guide planners in their hospital decisions. It made no mention of LMH, or of its status in the community.
"The city and county are currently working to provide new facilities for health agencies to serve the city and county population," the document said. "As the community continues to grow, additional facilities may be needed to meet health and medical demands. These facilities should be provided within the incorporated cities in the county."
The amendment runs three paragraphs and leaves no doubt that new hospital proposals would be considered in light of how they would affect LMH, although the hospital is referred to only as the county's "general hospital."
"The overall best interest of the community to ensure the continued economic viability of (LMH)," it says. "Unlike most other commercial businesses, an increase in general hospital competition can have a negative impact upon the provision of services provided to the community."
As a result, it says, "development proposals for a new general hospital shall be carefully examined."
Wildgen said the amendment would make Horizon 2020's guidance on hospitals "more research-based, policy-based than what was before," giving planners criteria to evaluate hospital proposals.
Gene Meyer, LMH's chief executive officer, said the proposed policy is appropriate.
"In very difficult times nationally for health care organizations, any acknowledgment of the importance of the locally owned hospital should be the thrust of planners," he said.
After the planning commission reviews the amendment, the city and county commissions would have to approve it before anything is changed.