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Investments in health to grow

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Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 2:59 pm | Updated: 3:14 pm, Tue Jan 15, 2013.

Millions of dollars are expected to be injected into the community throughout the next several years as health care systems expand in the Tri-Lakes Area.

Less than a month into 2013, the community has already seen Skaggs Regional Medical Center merge with CoxHealth, and Mercy announce plans to build a multi-specialty clinic.

“From a broad perspective, it’s all positive,” said Jonas Arjes, director of the Taney County Business Development Partnership.

The newly named Cox Medical Center Branson is expected to receive $100 million worth of investments as part of its new partnership, and the Skaggs Foundation has already received a $25 million endowment for future projects.

Mercy’s new project is expected to cost $45 million, with a 62,000-square-foot facility replacing the empty Branson Inn, with an expansion to the Oak Ridge Boys Theatre possible as negotiations continue.

Rob Steele, senior vice president of Mercy growth and development, said the facility will include an operating room, imaging, laboratory, pharmacy and urgent care, in addition to primary care services.

The full scope of the project is not yet clear, he said, as they determine the exact footprint of the building.

“We know that we will have to hire for the clinic, but that is the only fact we have at this point,” said Lisa Cox, media relations specialist for Mercy.

Jobs in the medical industry should come open in the near future as both systems expand. While there may not be a host of new doctors in the community, local colleges do turn out graduates in nursing and other medical support careers.

“We certainly have the assets to train people,” Arjes said. “There’s the nursing program at College of the Ozarks, and (Ozarks Technical Community College) has nursing and medical support programs. This allows the opportunity for local graduates to have jobs in the community.”

Job creation is at the heart of what Arjes and the business partnership is trying to achieve in Taney County, but new and expanding medical centers could mean even more for the local economy than jobs in that particular industry.

“From a quality-of-life standpoint, that’s one of the main attractions for businesses looking to relocate,” he said. “Site selection groups and consultants look at that closely. Having even more variety of health care offered helps that.”

William Mahoney, president and CEO of Cox Medical Center Branson, has previously said he expects the industry to grow locally.

“This is an aging population,” he said. “So we could see a continued health care boom. And that improves quality of life, but it should also improve economic quality of life.”

Though it’s hard to say exactly what impact that will have, Arjes said it’s difficult to know until both health systems announce more specific plans, but he said one thing is clear — it will be a positive development.

While some have concerns about two medical centers “splitting the pie” in terms of the sharing existing customers in the community, both Cox and Mercy have indicated they have years of data showing more services are needed in the Tri-Lakes Area.

“We have robust data analysis with regard to referrals,” Steele said. “Including what types of admissions we’re seeing from Stone and Taney counties. We also have to make some assumptions based on demographics and growth.”

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