Johnston Health opposes proposed medical facility

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2014 

Wake Endoscopy Center plans to move its Clayton practice to this existing building at 900 S. Lombard St.

NASH DUNN — ndunn@newsobserver.com

Johnston Health wants the state to reject another medical group’s bid to expand its endoscopy practice in Clayton.

While Wake Endoscopy Center says moving to larger quarters would improve access and lower costs for patients, Johnston Health CEO Chuck Elliott says the group hasn’t shown it can work well with the local hospital system.

“As the primary provider of health-care services in the county, we are concerned that Wake Endoscopy has had no communication at all with Johnston Health prior to filing its application,” Elliott said during a public hearing Thursday in Clayton.

In April, Wake Endoscopy and a real estate partner, Five GIS Rex Properties, applied for a certificate of need from the state. The two plan to spend $2.9 million to expand Wake Endoscopy into an existing building on Lombard Street. To regulate the number of medical facilities, North Carolina requires health-care providers to obtain certificates of need.

Johnston Health requested the public hearing, a meeting that is sometimes held but not required as part of the certificate-of-need process.

Wake Endoscopy Center, part of Raleigh Medical Group, has its main practice in Raleigh and a satellite office in Wake Forest. But Wake Endoscopy doctors already serve Clayton patients through space the company leases from N.C. Heart and Vascular at Johnston Professional Plaza in Clayton. State records show that about 10 percent of Wake Endoscopy’s patients in 2011 came from Johnston County.

Dr. Kerry Whitt, one of eight Wake Endoscopy physicians, handles most endoscopy procedures in Clayton. In response to Elliott’s comments during the public hearing, Whitt said he and other Wake Endoscopy doctors have talked with several Johnston County physicians who support the project. He said Wake Endoscopy also met with Johnston Health officials a few weeks ago to discuss a joint venture but decided against it.

Whitt said patient-origin data show about 5,000 Johnston County patients leave the county each year for gastrointestinal services. “We suspect this is because there are more cost-effective services in other counties,” he said.

“I don’t want to underestimate the importance of hospitals to the community,” Whitt said. “However, for gastrointestinal services that can be performed in an outpatient setting, hospital-based providers clearly have higher costs and charges compared to non-hospital providers, like Wake Endoscopy.”

The proposed expansion would be located in Clayton Professional Center on Lombard Street. Wake Endoscopy plans to purchase the building, where Labcorp rents office space. Wake Endoscopy would continue to lease space to Labcorp.

From October 2012 to September 2013, Johnston Health performed 2,772 endoscopy procedures at its Smithfield campus and 708 at its Clayton campus, according to statistics provided by the hospital.

The office where Whitt currently sees Johnston County patients is next to Johnston Health’s Clayton hospital on N.C. 42 West. Elliott said two Wake Endoscopy doctors have performed endoscopy procedures there in the past.

“Despite the proximity of its location and historical relationship with the physicians, the applicant has planned its project without any coordination with Johnston Health,” Elliott said.

The building on Lombard Street would include two procedure rooms and 1,500 square feet of office space, where doctors could meet with patients, said Cindy Groce, administrator for Wake Endoscopy Center.

Dr. Norwood Williams, a retired psychologist who founded Serve the Need in Johnston County, said he supports the certificate of need. Serve the Need seeks to help veterans, the elderly, the poor and disabled gain access to health care and other services.

“When we were looking for a stomach doctor, we found Dr. Whitt, and he had experience in this area,” Williams said during the public hearing, adding that he has been pleased with the services Wake Endoscopy doctors provide.

The state Division of Health Service Regulation now has up to 150 days to review Wake Endoscopy’s application before making a decision.

Dunn: 919-552-7234, Ext. 104

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