Three of the state's largest health systems are carrying their battle over hospital beds into overtime.
Earlier this month, regulators approved Rex Healthcare's plan to build a 50-bed hospital in Holly Springs and add a new tower on its main Raleigh campus for a heart and stroke facility. They also said WakeMed could add 51 beds — 22 at its Cary campus and 29 at its main campus on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh.
But regulators with the Department of Health and Human Services denied Rex's request to build a 40-bed hospital in Wakefield and WakeMed's application to add 79 beds on its main Raleigh campus. And Winston-Salem-based Novant, which has been trying to enter the lucrative Triangle health care market, was shut out completely. It had hoped to put a 50-bed hospital in Holly Springs.
Now all three are appealing the ruling, a move that sets up a long legal fight that could postpone a final decision for several years.
Regulators cited the need to improve access to services as a reason for approving a Holly Springs hospital. They said they gave the nod to Rex because it had the support from physicians and and the financial backing that such a project needed.
They also said WakeMed's Cary will increase services provided to Medicaid recipients and alleviate high bed deficits.
But WakeMed in its appeal argues the region would best be served by fully expanding its overcrowded Raleigh campus.
Stan Taylor, vice president of corporate planning for the health care provider, said that most hospitals aim for below 80 percent capacity but that WakeMed is above 80 percent on average days. On its busiest days, he said they are at 100 percent.
WakeMed also is appealing Rex's approved heart and stroke tower saying it will create a duplication of services in the area.
Meanwhile Rex is appealing regulators' denial of its Wakefield hospital, arguing that the Wake Forest area is quickly growing and needs a hospital sooner rather than later.
And Novant maintains that its denial of entry into the Triangle market stifles competition, which could lead to lower prices and higher quality of services.
State regulators review major medical projects through the Certificate of Need process, which is designed to control health care costs by preventing unnecessary expansion.
Health care providers must prove that the new projects are needed and that they won't drive up health care costs.
Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said he is disappointed in the appeals, which surprised him. Holly Springs residents have long asked for a hospital, citing the area's growing population and increased traffic to the nearest WakeMed hospital in Cary.
"We have about 100,000 people now who have been and still are underserved as relates to getting to a health care facility of this nature in a short period of time," he said.