CASPER, Wyo. — Critics of a new physician-owned hospital in Casper worry it will lure lucrative patients away from Wyoming Medical Center, resulting in cuts to cardiac and emergency care.
Natrona County commissioners fear a beleaguered WMC would leave taxpayers on the hook for indigent care.
Those concerns, whether real or imagined, won’t be considered by officials tasked with licensing Summit Medical Center. They simply can’t.
The proposed hospital is planned for an east Casper business park, leaving the City Council to decide only whether it meets planning guidelines. Council members have already given initial approval, though two votes remain.
State officials must also license the facility, but thanks to a two-decade-old legislative decision, their review won’t examine how Summit might affect other hospitals — or the care they provide.
“We’re not concerned with what the impact might be on the facilities because we have no statutory authority to review or consider that,” said Ron Pearson, the state administrator for health care licensing and surveys.
Most states have laws that require regulators to determine whether a community needs a new hospital. “Certificate of need” programs are based on the belief that too many facilities in a community can spur medical cost inflation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
As of two years ago, 36 states ran some sort of certificate of need program, the conference found. Wyoming also did for a time, but lawmakers repealed its law more than 20 years ago.
As a result, state regulators say they won’t consider what amounts to the central argument of Summit’s opponents — that it would harm other hospitals in the community.
State licensing officials would instead look at whether a new facility meets Wyoming hospital regulations, Pearson said. That would include having procedures for evacuating the building, as well as methods to secure patient records.
The review, however thorough, won’t extend to Wyoming Medical Center’s doors.
In a statement, WMC President Vickie Diamond said her hospital is exploring all options to protect the level of services it provides. She did not elaborate.
Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Natrona County, has served in the Wyoming Legislature for more than 30 years. He remembers when certificate of need was still the law of the land.
The process was totally ineffective, he said.
Local communities would push for new medical facilities — whether or not they were needed. Decision-makers almost never declined a project, but the law forced developers to go through the process anyway.
“They were just a bureaucratic and regulatory hassle that didn’t make any difference in the end, except it ran costs up,” he said.
Scott doesn’t recall the exact year, but some time before 1992, lawmakers repealed certificate of need. They did leave behind one remnant. State regulations prohibit an excessive number of nursing home beds in a community.
Summit’s arrival concerns Scott, who chairs the Legislature’s committee that studies health issues. He worries its arrival will leave Wyoming Medical Center caring for a higher percentage of Medicare patients, with less money to do so.
Still, he doesn’t predict much enthusiasm among lawmakers for revisiting certificate of need.
“The current Legislature is not really excited about government regulations,” he said. “And you have that history, when it was tried, it just wasn’t that effective.”