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A 'fundamental issue of fairness' underlies debate over proposed medical center

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Competing health care provider, organizer of opposition to the project, has itself been an aggressive builder in Waukesha County

Aurora Health Care today released data showing that ProHealth Care Inc., which for a full year has been the organizer of opposition to a proposed medical center in western Waukesha County, has itself spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars on construction projects since 1993.

“There’s a fundamental issue of fairness here,” said Greg Banks, president of Aurora’s Kettle Moraine Region.  “How could it be OK for ProHealth to build but not for Aurora to build?”

Aurora has proposed construction of a 21st century medical center to serve the fast-growing communities of western Waukesha County.  The project, on a site in the Town of Summit, would incorporate an 88-bed hospital and a new Wilkinson Medical Clinic to replace the outdated Wilkinson location in Oconomowoc.

“This is about meeting the changing needs of our patients,” said Kristin Simons, M.D., a family practitioner with Wilkinson Medical Clinic.  “ProHealth has grown aggressively in recent years to better meet the needs of its patients.  We ask only that we be allowed to do the same.”

The Wilkinson physicians care for more than 40,000 patients in western Waukesha County.

ProHealth’s ambitious expansion has included both hospital and clinic projects at sites throughout Waukesha County and beyond.  Bond documents and other publicly available records reflect an investment of at least $225 million since 1993.  Much of that total has been invested in just the past several years.  It should be noted that the grand total does not include the cost of a number of ProHealth clinics.  The amounts spent on those projects were not in the public record.

“It’s difficult to understand how a health system could spend a quarter of a billion dollars on facilities and now, when someone else wants to build a medical center, ProHealth argues that a competing system’s project will raise the cost of health care,” said Banks.

In addition, ProHealth’s 2004 bond offering statement identified an additional $102 million in future renovations and additions at Waukesha Memorial and Oconomowoc Memorial hospitals. 
Examples of ProHealth’s growth include:

  • A $60.3 million, 215,000-square-foot expansion at Waukesha Memorial Hospital.  The Northwest Tower addition opened in spring 2003.  The expansion added 23 beds, which translates to a cost of $2.6 million per new  bed.
  • A $27 million expansion at Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital to enhance and enlarge emergency and outpatient services. 
  • A $7 million investment in a cancer center at Oconomowoc Memorial.
  • A corporate health center in Oconomowoc.
  • An ambulatory surgery center in Waukesha.
  • An $11 million, 84,000-square-foot health and fitness center along I-94 in Pewaukee.
  • New clinics in Brookfield, Delafield, Hartland, New Berlin, Waukesha, Watertown and Mukwonago.

The Mukwonago project is ProHealth’s most recent expansion and one of its boldest competitive moves.  In an effort to dominate the Mukwonago area market, ProHealth opened a $28 million clinic and ambulatory surgery center this past January.  The building spans 150,000 square feet, which is 50,000 square feet larger than the clinic that is to be incorporated into the new Aurora Medical Center.

ProHealth officials have talked openly about the prospect of expanding the new Mukwonago building into a full hospital.  Waukesha Memorial’s director of construction told the Mukwonago newspaper that the site “includes plenty of room for an inpatient hospital to the east of the facility.”

“ProHealth Care has been enormously successful and enormously profitable, and we certainly don’t begrudge them their success,” Banks said.  “We simply would suggest that, having done so much building of their own, they lack credibility when they argue against a competing organization’s construction plans.”

ProHealth’s credibility gap extends to its public pronouncements about what it regards as encroachment on its territory.  County supervisors who were on the County Board in 1993 may well feel that, as Yogi Berra would say, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

In 1993, Aurora Health Care proposed to build a new clinic and surgery center just north of Waukesha.  The leaders of Waukesha Memorial Hospital immediately attacked the idea, insisting that the project would be bad for health care and the economy in Waukesha County.  A Waukesha Memorial spokesman told a newspaper at the time that the surgery center would “result in unnecessary duplication of service and be detrimental to the community.”

Aurora ultimately was allowed to build the clinic and surgery center.  And how did Waukesha Memorial respond to the new competition?  It announced plans to build its own ambulatory surgery center, and then dramatically reduced its surgery prices.

“The doom and gloom that was predicted in 1993 proved completely off base,” Banks said.  “The same sky-is-falling rhetoric is being used today to rally opposition to the new competition we are proposing.  Thoughtful people would be wise to view it with much skepticism.”

David Ulery, M.D., president of the Wilkinson Medical Clinic, said that for the Wilkinson physicians, this is all about patient care.

“The new medical center will allow us to offer more for our patients, enhancing the care and service we provide, and that’s what really matters here,” Dr. Ulery said.  “We look forward to moving beyond the politics of this situation and focusing on finding better ways to serve our patients.”

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a nationally recognized leader in efforts to improve the quality of care. Aurora offers services at sites in more than 80 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.


Contact: Jeff Squire (414-647-3408)

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