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Court sets arguments in Biloxi hospital dispute

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A dispute between two hospital companies over the location of a new medical center in Biloxi has made its way to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

The court will hear oral arguments June 12 in Jackson from Singing River Health System, which opposes the hospital, and Health Management Associates, which wants to build it.

The Mississippi Department of Health issued a certificate-of-need for the project in 2012. Mississippi requires such certification to help avoid duplication of services and control health care costs.

Singing River sued the state, saying there already are too many unused beds in the area and a new hospital would worsen the situation.

Health Management Associates argues it isn't proposing a new hospital but is replacing one damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The $133 million proposal would move the 144-bed acute-care facility to 35 acres off Interstate 10 in north Biloxi — four miles north of the Gulf of Mexico shore. The facility would be called The Hospital at Cedar Lake. The original hospital was about 300 yards from the shore, where Katrina's storm surge swept in on Aug. 29, 2005.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise upheld the Health Department's decision in 2013.

"This site, four miles from the Gulf, experienced no flood waters during Katrina. No new beds were to be added, but rather the 144 beds of the facility would be moved to the relocated facility," HMA attorney Thomas Kirkland Jr. argued in briefs.

Kirkland argued the project was not a "true relocation: old facility closes, replacement facility opens."

He said the state had ample evidence to find the project met criteria for a relocation not involving the addition of beds to the market.

Singing River attorney Barry Cockrell said industry statistics show that on any given day, half of the hospital beds on the Gulf Coast are empty.

"There are four existing hospitals in the immediate area proposed to be served by the new Cedar Lake facility, and all of those hospitals are grossly underutilized, and financially struggling," Cockrell said.

"Gulf Coast Medical Center has been closed for more than five years. The old Gulf Coast Medical Center building has been sold. There are no patients, employees, or medical staff. If the proposed Cedar Lake Hospital is constructed, it will have new medical equipment, new employees and a new medical staff. Thus, for all intents and purposes, Cedar Lake is certainly more like a new hospital," Cockrell said in briefs.

Court records show Health Management Associates, the parent of Harrison HMA, bought Gulf Coast Medical Center and operated it from May 2006 through Jan. 3, 2008. In February 2008, Gulf Coast asked the Health Department to put the 144 beds in abeyance until it decided what to do with them.

Kirkland and the Health Department argue Gulf Coast Medical Center should be considered an existing facility. They argue its beds are already part of the state's total bed inventory for health care planning purposes.

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