LEE COUNTY, FL--A battle pitting two hospital owners against each other for the right to build a new location in the Estero area and the big potential loser could be Lehigh Acres.
One of these options means Lehigh Regional Medical Center shuts down and that would leave that area without a hospital.
The law only allows so many hospital rooms in a certain area, so only one hospital can be built. The owners of Lehigh Regional, HMA, have been looking at the Alico corridor. Lee Memorial, the other hospital system in the county, told the state today that they would like to build in Estero.
Eugene Close has lived in Bonita Springs for nearly 20 years and he says it would take him about "probably 25 minutes" just to get to a hospital.
The Lee Memorial Health System wants to cut that time in half for those living in Bonita and Estero.
"We have had a long plan to put a hospital in south Lee County," said LMHS chief operating officer Dr. Lawrence Antonucci.
Today Lee Memorial filed a letter of intent with the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration to build a brand new, 80 bed hospital on 33 acres of land next to the Coconut Point Mall.
Lee Memorial bought the land in the mid 2000's behind the Bonita Community Health Center.
"We wanted to make sure the economy was rebounding and when the need was necessary," said LMHS president Jim Nathan.
Now the state will decide which hospital gets built.
"They try to review each application and make a decision as to what one they think is the most worthy," said Nathan.
Other people living in South Lee County say the time for a new hospital near them is now.
"We need it. It is too far to drive if you need something quick and you need someplace local to go," said Bonita resident Vicki Pierson.
Lee Memorial says it would move unused rooms in other hospitals to the new Estero Location, but not close any facilities.
For HMA to move its allotted rooms, they would close Lehigh Regional, except for the emergency room.
That would leave another part of the county without a hospital.