De Soto An Olathe hospital is looking to expand toward the western edge of Johnson County, cutting into the eastern edge of Lawrence Memorial Hospital's service area and rekindling warnings of rising health care costs and duplicative services.
Olathe Medical Center is seeking permission to build a medical campus on 40 acres along the north side of Kansas Highway 10 in De Soto.
Center officials go before the De Soto Planning Commission on Tuesday with a rezoning request, the first step in clearing plans for an eventual hospital.
"We feel good about the demand for this location," said Rod Corn, the center's senior vice president of development. "We really think this piece of land is the prime piece of property between Kansas City and Lawrence. It's the prime piece."
Officials at Lawrence Memorial Hospital don't see the need for such plans. The Kansas Highway 10 corridor already is well served by a number of Johnson County hospitals, of which at least two -- Shawnee Mission Medical Center and St. Luke's Health System -- already have announced plans for expansion into western Johnson County, said Janice Early-Weas, an LMH spokeswoman.
The plans from Olathe Medical Center just hit a little closer to home.
"Obviously, we would see it as a competitive threat," Early-Weas said. "We also serve the market to the east of Lawrence, particularly in Eudora, where we already have a physician's practice.
"We definitely see it as a competitive threat."
Rising costs foreseen
Early-Weas said LMH officials had no intention of openly fighting the Olathe center's plans for De Soto. Unlike in 1996 -- when LMH fought a fierce battle to keep Columbia/HCA Healthcare from gaining permission to build a new 70-bed, $20 million hospital at Sixth Street and Folks Road in Lawrence -- LMH doesn't have a direct stake in the outcome.
But the same arguments still make sense, she said.
"We still contend that additional health care facilities can only raise costs to patients," Early-Weas said. "In a fixed market, there's competition for staffing. You have a number of very highly trained medical professionals, and when you have competing facilities it's going to take higher salaries to attract them to your facility, so that's going to increase costs.
"And there's no need to duplicate very, very expensive medical equipment and then not use it to capacity. Those costs do get passed on."
Lawrence Memorial Hospital currently does not operate at full capacity for its 173 beds and affiliated sites, including LMH South -- the former home of Columbia/HCA's outpatient operations in Lawrence -- and physicians clinics in Baldwin, Tonganoxie and Eudora.
LMH has had the sole physician's practice in Eudora since May, when Dr. Ken Holladay retired. Eudora Family Care now is being considered for an expansion, Early-Weas said, but the hospital has no immediate plans to join the rush to grab land for a future hospital in the area.
"But we're always looking that direction, too," she said.
Planning for future
Olathe Medical Center doesn't plan to build a hospital right away. Instead, the 40-acre site would be developed in phases -- likely starting with an out-service facility -- as De Soto and the surrounding area grows.
"We want to get the zoning so we can build a hospital there," said Corn, who also is working on site plans for the property. "We just want to get that step taken so we don't have that limitation downstream."
The site along 91st Street, across the street from the De Soto school district's west campus, eventually could have a hospital complex comparable to the 300-bed unit at Olathe Medical Center, should growth in De Soto continue as anticipated, Corn said. Olathe Medical Center employs 2,200 people and also owns the 18-bed Miami County Hospital in Paola.
"Whatever the rooftops and demand for services are, we'll put whatever makes sense," he said.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital, with 1,200 employees, doesn't see the demand for a new hospital arriving anytime soon in the De Soto area.
In 2003, LMH had 107 patients admitted from Johnson County, plus another 334 from Eudora, Early-Weas said. Taken together, the total from the area represented 5.5 percent of the hospital's 8,032 inpatient admissions for the year.
"We talk about it a lot around here: These big Kansas City hospitals glancing westward," Early-Weas said. "They're always competitive threats, but it makes us work even harder to stay strong and respond to the market needs."
De Soto Explorer editor Elvyn J. Jones can be reached at (913) 585-1616.