Local public safety leaders are not cheering the state’s decision last week to reject Beaumont’s application to build a 117-bed hospital in Oxford Township.
“We’re disappointed because we believe that having a fully-staffed, professional medical facility within our township borders would be beneficial to the public and to law enforcement,” said Oakland County Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Lenz, second in command at the Oxford substation.
“I was kind of looking forward to that, (having) a hospital close by,” said Oxford Village Police Chief Mike Solwold, who noted right now, the closest hospitals are 20 to 30 minutes away, depending on traffic, in Lapeer, Pontiac and Rochester Hills.
“We’re kind of in a bad spot out here in Oxford. We’re like smack-dab in the middle. It seems like it would have made sense to have a hospital here.”
“It’s a disappointment because I think it would have been good for the community to have access to health care that much closer to home,” said Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz.
On Sept. 30, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a five-page proposed decision informing William Beaumont Hospital that its certificate-of-need application had been “disapproved.” Submitted Feb. 1, the application was to construct a $140 million, 225,000-square-foot hospital on 25 acres on the east side of M-24, just north of the village.
A lack of population within the area that Beaumont was looking to serve and within 30 minutes’ drive time of the proposed hospital site was cited by the state as the reason for the denial.
Beaumont has 15 days from Oct. 7 – which is when the proposed denial was received via certified mail – to appeal by filing a request for a hearing.
“We have not received an appeal,” said MDHHS Public Information Officer Lynn Sutfin on the morning of Oct. 8.
Last week, Oxford Township Trustee Jack Curtis said he was told by a Beaumont representative that the hospital is planning “a full-court press to appeal this decision.”
In his October e-newsletter, state Rep. John Reilly (R-Oakland Twp.) indicated he’s going “to investigate (the) state’s denial.”
“The state prohibiting the creation of hospitals where it determines the market demand is already met creates a sort of monopoly for existing hospitals – limiting competition while reducing access to care and driving up the price . . . It makes no more sense than the state limiting the number of gas stations in a given area,” Reilly wrote.
Local public safety leaders are hoping the MDHHS will change its mind.
“I don’t know all the facts (as to) why it was turned down, but if there’s any way (the decision) can be reversed and they end up building a hospital there, I would be very pleased,” Lenz said.
“I’m hoping that the powers that be will change their minds or come up with a way that they can make this work,” Solwold said. “I just think it makes sense for our town . . . I think it’s time and I think we have the space . . . You can’t go wrong with having a hospital.”
Solwold noted that when looking at the area’s population, he believes the state should also take into account the more than 30,000 vehicles that travel through Oxford every day along M-24 and the potential for those drivers and their passengers to have medical emergencies ranging from crashes to heart attacks.
Scholz said if Oxford had a hospital that accepted ambulances, that would eliminate the need for his paramedics and emergency medical technicians to travel to Lapeer, Pontiac and Rochester Hills.
Less drive time would be a big time-saver. According to Scholz, a medical call that requires patient transport to a hospital can take one of his ambulances and crews out of the community for up to two hours.
“A lot of it depends on traffic,” he explained. “If it’s rush hour in the morning or rush hour in the evening, that’s every bit of two hours.”
Scholz noted sometimes crews can transport a patient and be back to Oxford in an hour, but it’s “not that often.”
The impact of having these units out of town for such long periods of time is less coverage for the community and heavier reliance on receiving mutual aid from surrounding fire departments, Scholz explained.
Having a hospital in Oxford could also help increase patient survival rates.
“That would get them closer to definitive care that much quicker,” Scholz said.
Addison Township Fire Chief Jerry Morawski said having a hospital in Oxford “would have benefitted us a lot.”
Instead of continuing to take 65 to 70 percent of its patients to Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital (formerly Crittenton), Morawski said Addison “would have definitely transported our patients” to an Oxford Beaumont. “It would have been nice to have that here,” he said.
According to Lenz, having a hospital in Oxford would make it much more practical for sheriff’s deputies to exercise the “load and go” option in emergency medical situations that warrant it. “Load and go,” Lenz explained, involves an officer arriving on scene before emergency medical personnel and finding a victim with a “life-threatening trauma where seconds count,” like a gunshot wound or a baby who’s been badly hurt in a car crash.
In those cases, the officer has to make a split-second decision whether to wait for emergency medical personnel to arrive or immediately drive the victim to the hospital.
“If there was a hospital right here, I might load and go straight (there),” Lenz said. “Right now, I can’t (do that) because all the hospitals are too far away . . . We could do it (now), but it wouldn’t be advantageous.”
Given the closest hospitals are in Pontiac, Lapeer and Rochester Hills, Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford substation, said waiting for Oxford Fire personnel to arrive is currently “the smarter play” because they have both the tools and training to handle things on scene.
Lenz noted Oxford firefighters are “really quick” and “highly-trained” when it comes to responding to medical calls.
That being said, both Lenz and Patterson would still like to have quick access to a local hospital 24-7.
“If I could carry around an emergency room doctor in my back pocket everywhere I go on this job, that would be awesome,” Lenz said. “Obviously, they don’t fit in my pocket, but I wish they (were) in our community and were more readily available to us.”
“It gives you another option,” Patterson said.
Solwold indicated having a hospital in the community would be a big help whenever one of his officers has to get blood drawn from a driver suspected of alcohol or drug use.
Most of the time, the Oxford Fire Department can handle taking the sample, but whenever a suspect is “uncooperative” or “combative,” Solwold said they go to McLaren Oakland in Pontiac to have it done.
The chief noted this happens “at best, maybe a couple times a month, if that.”
“It’s not that often, honestly,” Solwold said.
Granted, village officers must travel to Pontiac anyway after these types of arrests so the suspect can be lodged in the county jail, but Solwold said having to go to the hospital, too, and wait for someone there to take a blood sample adds time to the trip.
On a personal note, Solwold said if he was having a medical situation, he would “like to go to the closest hospital” and he would prefer it if that hospital was “across the street, instead of (in) Lapeer or Rochester or Pontiac.”
“I want the closest available doctor to start working on me,” the chief said. “I’m pretty sure other folks would probably feel the same way.”
As a parent and area resident, Patterson said he “definitely would want someplace close” if one of his children needed emergency care.
“A lot of these (existing) hospitals are quite far away,” he said. “What parent is going to want to drive farther to get their child (medical) care?”