Rockwood Clinic is fighting eviction from the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center campus, insisting that it won’t be able to move its outpatient surgery center and heart clinic by June 30 without disrupting patients.
The sides have exchanged letters outlining their legal positions this month as the fallout continues from Rockwood’s decision last year to join Deaconess Medical Center, Sacred Heart’s rival. Meanwhile, Rockwood employees are left to wonder where they will be working this summer and how it will affect patient care after Sacred Heart declined to rework the clinic’s leases two months ago.
“I can’t tell you of the ultimate end space or the exact time frame,” said Dr. Kevin Sweeny, Rockwood’s chief executive. “The magnitude of this process is enormous.”
Sweeny said Rockwood needs many more months to find acceptable space, design plans, obtain permits, receive the appropriate health regulatory certifications and then build a significant outpatient surgery center able to handle more than 900 outpatient procedures a month.
Rockwood has 25 doctors and more than 100 staff at its outpatient surgery center on the seventh floor of the Sacred Heart Doctors Building. They perform surgeries ranging from hernia repair and breast augmentation to tonsillectomies and cataract procedures.
Another five doctors and their staff work at Rockwood’s Heart Center within the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute.
Sacred Heart administrators said they have given Rockwood ample time to move, along with assurances that the clinic’s surgeons will continue to have access to the medical center’s operating rooms.
“We’ll provide surgical time in our centers on the campus so there is no disruption to patients,” said Sharon Fairchild, vice president of communications for Sacred Heart. “But at this time there are other tenants interested in the space and we do need to move forward to prepare for them.”
Rockwood’s outpatient surgery numbers, however, would simply swamp Sacred Heart’s capacity, Sweeny said. And Deaconess can’t alleviate the demand, either.
There’s speculation that Rockwood will move into the top three floors of the Deaconess Health and Education Center, the doctors office building along Monroe and across the street from the Shriners Hospital for Children.
Sweeny acknowledged that the vacant floors remain a possibility, but Rockwood still is casting about for the right fit.
He said Rockwood needs about 50,000 square feet, including specialized space for operating and recovery rooms, as well as space able to accommodate nuclear equipment used by cardiologists.
Turning undeveloped space into surgical suites can take 12 to 18 months, he said, and costs millions of dollars.
Rockwood’s monthly lease payment at Sacred Heart is now six figures. The sides declined to say what a renegotiated, temporary lease might cost Rockwood if an agreement can be reached.
Sweeny said he considers the letters exchanged between the sides to be a starting point in negotiations.
The rift began last year when Rockwood’s physician owners accepted a $50 million buyout offer from Community Health Systems Inc. of Tennessee. The clinic is being folded into an integrated health care network with Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center, which Community Health purchased for $176 million in 2008.
The Rockwood buyout jolted the medical community and stunned Sacred Heart, which had enjoyed a prosperous partnership with the clinic for decades. About a quarter of patients admitted to Sacred Heart came from Rockwood providers.
That relationship is now frayed. And though Rockwood leaders say that their patients in need of hospitalization may choose where to be admitted, the default location will be Deaconess or Valley. Few patients challenge their doctors’ recommendation and Rockwood leaders have said they intend to send at least 90 percent of their patients to Deaconess.
Rockwood and Sacred Heart leaders both insist that they don’t want business disagreements to affect patients.
“We respect Providence greatly, but we’re not going to compromise the continuity of our care of patients and jeopardize their safety,” Sweeny said. “I think it has to be high on (Sacred Heart’s) list as well.”
Fairchild said Sacred Heart intends to ensure patients will be able to get the help they need by accessing the medical center’s surgery capabilities.
Sacred Heart said allowing a competitor to occupy coveted space within its campus is not in its best interests.
Rockwood physicians will continue to have privileges at Sacred Heart, Fairchild said.