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Will New Hospital Worsen Nursing Shortage?

"Adding another hospital in Richmond will spread the existing number of nurses across one more facility," Foust says. "The fact is there's a nursing shortage, locally and nationally now." St. Francis, he says, "may make that shortage worse."

"That's a very flimsy argument," counters Jody Challen, a spokeswoman for Bon Secours Richmond Health System, which is lobbying to build St. Francis, a $75 million, 130-bed hospital. "The reality is, we have an area that is growing at an exponential rate."

The Brandermill-Woodlake corridor is bursting with people, she says, and nurses are moving into Richmond. Already, CJW's Chippenham and Johnston-Willis hospitals have not been able to meet the demand for medical care, she says. "Where are these folks going to get the medical attention they need?"

More than a year ago, the local health-care community started seriously tackling the nursing shortage. Results have been mixed. And there are long-term worries about the aging population — and the number of nurses entering and staying in the profession.

Challen boasts that the nursing school created by Bon Secours has helped increase the supply of nurses locally, and helped them push their vacancy rate to "well below" 8 percent. "We grow our own," she says.

Regardless, says Foust, the area's nurses will be thinned among local hospitals with the addition of St. Francis. And that, he says, will lead to patients in nonemergency situations being diverted from one hospital to another.

Challen counters that CJW Medical Center just wants to hold onto its "monopoly" south of the James.

The issue is close to being settled. On Sept. 26 and 27, both hospital systems will present their cases to an adjudication officer from the state health commissioner's office during an informal fact-finding conference. It's likely that in late October or early November, the officer will present a report to the health commissioner, who will decide if plans for St. Francis can proceed.

— Jason Roop

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