By Patrick Jackson
DOVER — State regulators will likely decide July 23 whether Sussex County will get a free-standing emergency room in the Georgetown area.
An advisory panel in June said that neither BayHealth nor Beebe Healthcare convinced its members there was a need for an emergency department in central Sussex County. But Jill Fredel, communications director for the Department of Health and Social Services, said that the full Delaware Health Resources Board is not bound by that recommendation.
“They could decide to say yes to one, yes to both, or no to both,” Fredel said. “They aren’t beholden to the review committee’s recommendation.”
Given the stakes and the investment involved, Fredel said DHSS was preparing for a range of possibilities, including possible legal challenges to a negative ruling.
“I haven’t talked to our [deputy attorney general] about it,” she said. “But I would think that they would be preparing for all contingencies.”
John Van Gorp, Bayhealth’s vice president of planning and business development, said the healthcare system’s response will be shaped by the board’s ruling.
“We could file a suit, or we could come back and refile based on what the Health Resources Board says in its decision,” he said, noting that Bayhealth sees a need for the facility. “I don’t think we really can say anything until we get the decision.”
Alex Sydnor, Beebe’s vice president of external affairs, said there are appeal mechanisms in the law, but that his team will wait on the ruling before deciding on next steps.
“We are convinced there is a need,” said Sydnor. He added that Beebe’s proposed location near U.S. 113 and Delaware 404 would be especially convenient for Georgetown and Millsboro residents.
Van Gorp and Syndor both say the Georgetown location is key because, especially during beach season, east-west traffic on Sussex County’s network of two-lane highways is frequently at a standstill. This dramatically increases the time it takes for emergency personnel to answer a call and deliver patients to either Bayhealth’s new Sussex Campus in Milford, Beebe in Lewes or Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford.
In addition, Sussex County’s fast-growing population of year-round residents along the U.S. 9 corridor between Del. 1 and U.S. 13 is putting pressure on healthcare providers.
Some critics see the board’s involvement as the county government overstepping its bounds.
“Why is it in the public’s interest to have bureaucrats in Dover deciding whether or not Georgetown area needs an ER or not and picking which company does or does not get to build it?” asked John Toedtman, senior advisor for the Caesar Rodney Institute. “Answer: it isn’t! The market players, namely BayHealth and Beebe, have assessed the need. The government picking winners and losers is an invitation for continuing political corruption and back-room deals”
Hospitals have been sending written comments to members, but the board is playing its cards close to the vest.
“We have offered comments,” Van Gorp said. “But they’re keeping communications close. I think we all just have to wait to see what the full board has to say.”