Williamsburg — Riverside Health System has won its years-long battle to build a hospital in Williamsburg, despite the ongoing protests of the nearby Sentara hospital that another facility isn't necessary.
The state health commissioner this week approved Riverside's proposed Doctors' Hospital of Williamsburg, along with rival Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center's proposal to expand by six hospital beds.
Riverside has been trying for about eight years to get into the hospital business in the Williamsburg area, and twice its application to build a new hospital has been denied.
"It feels pretty doggone good," said David Tate, Riverside's senior vice president for development. "It's been a long hike. I think in a way it's justification for all the greater Williamsburg-area citizens that supported us."
Sentara Williamsburg officials have fought Riverside's plans, saying there's no need for a second hospital in the area. Each time, Sentara offered to expand its upper York County hospital if the need existed.
"Yes, the population is growing and, yes, the population is aging. That doesn't necessarily mean you need more hospital beds to serve it," said Robert Graves, vice president and administrator of Sentara Williamsburg. "We're not operating at capacity today."
"We're disappointed in the overall decision that the health commissioner made. We don't see what change was made in the first two applications that were turned down" by the former health commissioner, he said.
In a letter to the health systems, Health Commissioner Karen Remley said one of the reasons she approved Riverside's plan is because of a change in the way hospital projects are approved. Last year, legislation gave new weight to community support, accessibility to health-care services and institutional competition.
Riverside's battle to build generated a wellspring of community support, with letters pouring in by the thousands.
The legislative change was spurred by Del. Phil Hamilton, R- Newport News, whose district includes James City County.
"I think it's wonderful news," Hamilton said of the hospital approvals. "I think it's a win for the citizens and their access to health care. Clearly, I think it's a win for the health care system overall. I think competition ultimately will help improve the quality of health care and the affordability of health care. I believe competition and market forces do help to regulate cost in a very positive way."
Sentara, on the other hand, fears Riverside's 40-bed hospital will duplicate its services. Graves said people are mistaken if they think a small hospital can provide the same service a large hospital can.
"We still don't believe the community is served well with two hospitals in a small community. We think the community is much better served by one larger, full-service medical center."
Sentara is still wading through the health commissioner's decision and will gauge whether expanding is what's best for the community, Graves said.
The plan relocates resources from Newport News to Williamsburg by closing 60 beds and an operating room at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. That better distributes health-care services where they're needed, Tate said.
Riverside's plans are part of the Quarterpath at Williamsburg development. The campus includes medical offices, ambulatory care and urgent care. Those plans were submitted to Williamsburg's Historic Architectural Review Board, and construction will start once the necessary city approvals are in place, Tate said.
Construction of the newly approved hospital won't begin until 2010. The two-story hospital will be designed to accommodate expansion in case it's needed in the future, Tate said. The hospital includes an intensive-care unit and two operating rooms. "We have some serious planning to do, and design work," Tate said.
2001: Riverside's offer to buy all or some of Williamsburg Community Hospital is rejected.
2002: Sentara files plans to build Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center in York County.
2004: Riverside buys land at state Route 199 and U.S. Route 60
2005: Riverside applies to build a Williamsburg hospital; Sentara applies for six-bed expansion. Both submit applications for long-term acute-care hospitals.
2006: All applications are denied. Sentara applies for six-bed medical rehabilitation unit, which is approved. Riverside reapplies for a hospital with rehab beds and Sentara reapplies for a six-bed expansion. Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center opens.
2007: Riverside and Sentara's applications are denied a second time; Sentara's rehab unit opens.
2008: Riverside tries a third time; Sentara for a third time counters with six-bed expansion.
2009: Both proposals are approved.
Doctors' Hospital of Williamsburg
• Project: 40 beds, two operating rooms
• Cost: $72.4 million
• Estimated completion date: January 2012
Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center
• Project: 6-bed expansion
• Cost: $11.2 million
• Estimated completion date: January 2011
Source: Department of Health
Published: May 19, 2009