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IU Health: Downtown hospital is possible, but at least three other Fort Wayne facilities will open first

Ron Stiver

IU Health is open to the possibility of building a hospital on the 29-acre “North River” property downtown, but its immediate goal is to build a primary care presence in the market, improve the health of residents and lower the cost of medical care in Fort Wayne.

“Allen County needs 40 additional primary care physicians to meet the state average,” said Ron Stiver, president of system clinical services for the Indianapolis-based network, which in October announced its intention to expand a presence in Fort Wayne that began with the September announcement of a Riley Children’s Hospital clinic at 409 E. Cook Road. Since then, however, the network has said little publicly about its plans for Fort Wayne — until now.

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Work is well underway on a primary care facility in an existing office at West Jefferson and Engle roads Stiver expects to open in late summer. And by late this year or early next year, new medical offices should be open southwest at Aboite and Dicke roads and northeast at Stellhorn and Lahmeyer roads. Although IU Health signs are also posted at Illinois and Hadley roads, nothing is imminent there, said Stiver, noting that the company’s “second phase” could include surgery centers, urgent care, therapy or other , therapy facilities and other services.

The city paid $4.63 million for the North River site last November, and city officials announced Thursday that IU Health and three other firms are interested in developing the former industrial site. Although a hospital is a possibility, Stiver said the interest at this point reflects only IU Health’s desire to keep its options open as it assesses Fort Wayne’s market and medical needs.

Community Health Systems, parent company of Lutheran Health Network, has said it is also planning to build a new hospital downtown to replace the aging St. Joseph Hospital. Such a facility could influence IU Health’s downtown plans, Stiver said. “We are focusing on our strategic entry (into the market), but we would factor in where others are.”

Stiver said CHS’ lawsuit alleging former Lutheran Health Network Brian Bauer used confidential information last year when a group led by local doctors unsuccessfully tried to buy Lutheran Health is not affecting IU Health’s presence. Bauer remains a consultant with IU Health but has been ordered by the court not to share any information he gained as a LHN executive.

“We believe we have a special role to play (in Fort Wayne), Stiver said, noting Indiana’s second-largest city has not always been known for its good health. “We’re looking at recruiting (doctors and others) from Fort Wayne and beyond.” In fact, IU Health representatives were recruiting in Texas Friday on behalf of Fort Wayne.

The feedback from Fort Wayne to date, he added, has been “extremely positive.” Stiver hopes it will become even more positive if IU Health’s presence drives down health-care costs.

“That’s our desire,” he said.

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