NEW HOSPITAL MAY DRAW SPECIALISTS TO FORT RILEY AREA

10/16/2010 12:00 AM

10/18/2010 8:16 AM

FORT RILEY — When a new hospital opens at Fort Riley in 2014, it will be capable of serving the entire active-duty community, including family members, as well as retirees, a post official said.

Col. Mike Heimall, Irwin Army Community Hospital commander, set that goal for the facility during a presentation Wednesday to representatives of area communities.

"The new hospital will be exactly what the installation needs to meet the health needs of the current and future population on post," Heimall said. "We will be able to provide health care to all active duty soldiers and their families as well as all retired military personnel and their families."

The $404 million project is estimated to be finished in spring 2014 and will be about 170,000 square feet larger than Irwin Army Community Hospital, Heimall said. It will also employ more people, opening job opportunities in health care.

"The hospital staff consists of almost 1,500 people with just about 400 of those being military personnel," he said. "We still need to hire about 400 more new employees to meet the needs of our growing population by fiscal year 2013."

It is expected to be finished about a year or so after all five brigades assigned to the base return home, putting the base's population around 16,000 soldiers plus any families that follow them. Soldier's deployment times will also be changing allowing them to be stationed here for a longer period of time.

Staffing increases of the size looming at the post hospital could ripple throughout the area medical community. But the head of the area's largest regional hospital said he did not anticipate problems.

"They recruit people nationally to come work at the base," said John Broberg, chief executive officer of Mercy Regional Health Center. "And by working together we are going to try to keep more services localized that will help not only our communities but the patients since they won't have to travel as far to get the care they need."

Each year patients receive about $108 million worth of services at the Irwin Hospital, with an additional $39 million spent off-post — about $10 million between Manhattan and Junction City, Heimall said.

"All of that money spent off-post is mostly for specialists," he said. "With the new hospital we are going to try to recruit more specialists so the rest of the $39 million will be spent here in the Flint Hills."

The biggest specialist needs not just for Fort Riley but for the entire region are neurologists and internal medicine doctors. But since only soldiers and family members of active and retired soldiers have access to the health care provided on post, many people from the surrounding communities are worried that they won't see the benefits of the new military hospital.

"What would most likely happen is that if we can recruit these specialists to the area they would set up offices on- and off-post," said Ty Warner, executive director of the Flint Hills Regional Council.

"Everyone that is coming to the area whether for NBAF (the national biodefense lab) or other job opportunities is just as worried about health care as everyone out here on base.

"If we can get more specialists to come to the area, along with the public transportation and the economic development that's going on, would make the Flint Hills that more of an attractive place to live," Warner said. "We just need to make sure we capitalize on these opportunities."

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