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Silver Cross hospital plans to build surgery center in New Lenox

Silver Cross Health System plans to build a free-standing surgery center on its hospital campus in southwest suburban New Lenox to ease large patient loads and meet future demand.

The project, which the hospital estimated would cost $11.1 million, would only handle surgeries that don't require overnight hospital stays, also known as "ambulatory" or "outpatient" surgical care. Examples of such procedures include colonoscopies, cataract surgery and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.

Silver Cross made its plans public in regulatory documents filed earlier this week with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. The surgery center requires state approval.

Ambulatory surgery centers, which have been around for a few decades, are growing in popularity because they give surgeons more autonomy over their work and have been shown to provide lower-cost care than hospitals. Silver Cross' proposal is a sign of how hospitals are rethinking their organizations to drive patients into the lowest possible cost setting in which quality care can be delivered.

In its regulatory application, the health system said it chose to build an outpatient surgery center with three operating rooms rather than expand the 296-bed hospital because it was less expensive. Adding operating rooms to the hospital would have cost nearly $30 million, Silver Cross estimated.

Silver Cross also considered opening the surgery center in Homer Glen, where it has a health center, but said the site would require more parking.

The hospital said its operating rooms are currently overused and surgical demand is increasing, especially outpatient procedures. In 2015, total surgical cases increased 7.3 percent from the year before, but outpatient cases grew 10 percent.

Silver Cross said it has extended operating hours to meet demand but that at a certain point patients are going to have to wait longer for procedures. The project would allow the health system to move surgical volume from the hospital to the proposed surgery center, which it would like to open in the first quarter of 2018.

Since opening its New Lenox hospital in 2012, which replaced a facility in Joliet, Silver Cross has attracted more patients and medical staff. The increased patient volume has led to improved profitability, offsetting some pressure from its high debt load. The hospital's market share also has grown at the expense of its nearest competitor, Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, according to Fitch Ratings, a debt-rating service.

If the project is approved, Silver Cross said it intends to sell up to 49 percent of the ownership in the surgery center to physicians.

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