Published: Apr 10, 2013 1:47 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 10, 2013 5:38 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Health Management Associates Inc. (HMA) has backed off plans to build a hospital in South Lee County, but Lee Memorial will still push forward its plan for an 80-bed hospital in that same area.

Health Management Associates had considered closing Lehigh Regional Medical center to move to Bonita Springs, but today changed their mind.

Applications for the new hospital must be in today.

Jim Nathan, President, Lee Memorial Health System issued the following statement:

"LMHS will be submitting its CON application for an 80-bed acute care hospital today as planned. We have been working on a ten-year master plan to meet the health care facility needs of our community, which considers the changing geographic population trends of our region, the need for additional capacity during the seasonal months, and renovations needed at Lee Memorial Hospital. Thus, HMA’s decision today does not alter those facts.

South Lee County is one of the fastest growing areas in our region and is expected by 2018 to hold nearly a third of the County’s total population, yet it does not have convenient access to acute care services. The population of South Lee County is forecast to grow from 180,000 to over 200,000 by 2018.   More than one-third of the population of Bonita Springs/Estero is over the age of 65, and seniors as a group are in need of hospital care more than the general population. A hospital sited at LMHS’s Coconut Road property would significantly reduce travel times for the service area’s residents and improve access to acute care services.

LMHS has had longstanding plans to build a hospital in the Bonita Springs/Estero area, and land was purchased for this purpose in 2005 and 2006, with the approval of the Board of Directors at that time.  Those plans were delayed when the growth of the region slowed during the recession. In February when HMA proposed moving its Lehigh Regional Medical Center somewhere along the Alico Road corridor, it accelerated our plans to move forward with a CON in the same batch cycle as we strongly believed the more southern location was far better to meet the needs of this growing and more senior population.

Looking at the demographic factors at hand and the current distribution of acute care hospital beds in Southwest Florida, it is clear that placing an 80 bed facility in the Bonita Springs/Estero area would result in a better distribution of hospital beds throughout our community."