USA Health officials broke ground on a 25,000-square-foot, roughly $20 million ambulatory surgical center on Tuesday, located along a busy stretch of highway in Alabama’s fastest-growing county.
The surgery center will be next door to a 50,000-square-foot physician’s office building that is currently under construction and is expected to be completed this fall.
“We just think there is a real need for this,” said Owen Bailey, CEO of USA Health. “There is a real need for access to the academic specialties we have.”
He added, “So many folks we hire live over here now, and this gives them a home base. It’s an exciting project. We think it’s complimentary to the Baldwin County health system.”
The ambulatory surgery center (ASC) will take approximately one year to complete, with an opening expected next spring. When finished, it will include six operating rooms, two procedure rooms, 14 pre-op areas and 13 recovery rooms.
Construction will also occur while USA Health’s entire development at Alabama State Route 181 and 104 is still subject to an ongoing legal challenge.
Infirmary Health is challenging the Certificate of Need board’s decision last year to grant USA Health the approval it needed to build the medical facilities at Alabama State Route 181 and 104 in Fairhope. An appeal is pending before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
The board voted 5-0 on two separate occasions, granting USA Health’s application despite opposition from Infirmary Health, which operates Thomas Hospital – about four miles from the USA Health site – and Bay Eyes Surgery Center, Inc.
Bailey said that USA Health is moving forward with the project because of the two previous unanimous endorsements by the Certificate of Need board.
An Infirmary Health spokeswoman declined comment.
“Our mission statement is that we help people lead longer and better lives,” said Bailey. “That’s what this facility will do.”
The Certificate of Need board’s decisions occurred after an administrative law judge, last May, ruled that USA Health had not sufficiently illustrated the need for a surgical center near Fairhope. The judge’s ruling followed nearly two weeks of testimony in the fall of 2020, much of which was held at The Grand Hotel in Point Clear.
Alabama State Senator Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said that rapid growth continues to define Baldwin County, and that a need continues to grow to meet the demand for more services.
The county was tops in Alabama for the highest growth rate between the 2010 and 2020 Census counts, adding 27% to its population (Limestone County, with a 25% growth, was No. 2).
Elliott said since the 2020 count, Baldwin County has added more than 7,500 residents – the equivalent of adding a city the size of Greenville.
Said Elliott, “It’s a trend line that continues to go up and this center will benefit those folks who come here, no doubt about it”.
The surgery center, when completed, will be located along a major traffic corridor through the Eastern Shore of Baldwin County that connects Fairhope, Daphne, and Spanish Fort.
The road is currently under construction as part of a widening project that will take it from two lanes to four extending from Baldwin County 64 to Route 104. That portion of the widening project is scheduled to be completed this fall, according to an Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman.
Adjacent to the property is a future Publix grocery store, also under construction. The entire USA Health property consists of 8 acres and it is land that was donated to the University of South Alabama in the summer of 2020 by Louis and Melinda Mapp.
Dr. Bill Richards, chair of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said the center will serve as an educational site to “train the next generation of students using minimal invasive techniques” and who will “utilize the latest in technology to improve patient outcomes.”
Bailey said of the approximately $20 million price tag, $13 million will be for construction and $7 million for equipment. The center will include technologically advanced surgical equipment including a Mako robotic arm to assist in total joint replacements.
Surgical specialists in pediatrics, orthopedics, urology, general surgery, gastroenterology, ear, nose, and throat and more will care for patients at the new center.
USA has several partners on the project including Surgery Partners of Tennessee, which will administer the center once its operating.
Bailey said that Surgery Partners runs around 180 of the centers nationally.
“We like that they have experience in academic ambulatory centers including one in Vanderbilt,” he said. Surgery Partners also operates Birmingham Surgery Center in Homewood.
Bailey said that other details are still being worked out, including how many physicians and surgeons will work out of the new center.
“There is a lot of interest from the surgical community,” he said.