Columbus Regional Health has purchased about 800 acres on the west side of Columbus, where future health services would be located as part of the system’s strategic plan.

Friday’s purchase of the farmland for just over $11 million from Garden City Farms LLC will allow the Columbus-based health system to better meet the community’s health care needs, said system President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Bickel, along with CRH board members Sherry Stark and David Doup and Sherry Stark.

What that growth will look like and what that investment will entail is still in the visioning process, Bickel said.

“We won’t need 800 acres for long-range future planning, but the seller was not interested in subdividing the property,” he said.

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Most likely, Columbus Regional Health — the second-largest employer in Bartholomew County, with about 2,500 workers — will use 100 to 150 of those acres, and have a say in how the remaining acreage will be utilized, Bickel said. The seller has an option to repurchase 100 of the acres to continue as farmland, he said.

The property is just east of Interstate 65, which Bickel said was important for both visibility and accessibility by customers. It has access to Jonathan Moore Pike (State Road 46) and State Road 11, and potential access to West County Road 200S.

It is tucked partly behind the city’s west-side entryway with commercial development of restaurants, retail and service outlets already in place. The property also reaches into the Garden City area off State Road 11.

For the time being, the land will remain as farmland, currently rented as crop land to the Daily family, hospital officials said.

Flexibility for future

“The amount of acreage gives us a great deal of latitude,” Bickel said.

He emphasized that while the acreage would open up an opportunity for an additional campus beyond 17th Street, a 30-acre site where the county hospital has been located for 100 years, CRH is not ready to announce specific plans for the newly purchased property. Since it is agricultural land, and not within the city limits, there are no utilities or infrastructure in place.

The new property was purchased by Southeastern Indiana Medical Holdings, a Columbus Regional Health holding company.

The purchase is the latest in a number of high-profile real estate purchases by the hospital system over the past few years, the most visible being the former Clarion Hotel & Conference Center on Columbus’ west side, which is about 90 percent demolished in preparation for new development, and buying the former Republic building downtown on Second Street next to Columbus City Hall.

While the Clarion property is among the mid-term projects on the hospital’s future expansion list, Bickel acknowledged that an offer-to-purchase agreement is being negotiated for the hospital system to sell the former Republic building downtown, which has been vacant since December 2016.

Bickel stressed that the hospital 17th Street campus still has utility in it. The hospital celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017, and recent major expansions have added a new cancer center and emergency department at that location.

However, as the hospital has added on over the years, portions of the facility are 50 to 60 years old, and even some of the patient tower expansion is approaching 30 years old, he said.

Many changes in health care have occurred over the 100 years that CRH has spent at the 17th Street campus, including a transition of patient care from inpatient to more outpatient services, Bickel said. The way people wish to interact with the health care system and how they access care is changing as well, he said.

Landlocked campus

CRH officials have looked at expansion at the 17th Street campus but find themselves landlocked by Haw Creek and the surrounding neighborhood area, Bickel said.

One example of the complexity of “building up” at the 17th Street site is the configuration of facilities at the current hospital site, Bickel said. The hospital’s power plant is currently located behind the emergency department and moving it to add more space in that area would cost an estimated $35 million, he said.

Describing that as a “startling number,” Bickel said it would be unlikely for the hospital to be able to recoup that cost even with the gain in patient delivery space that would be added at the 17th Street campus.

“We looked at the square footage and the possibility that we’re overbuilding on the main campus,” he said. “We decided to step back and strategically determine how much investment we would be doing in the 17th Street campus.”

That involves taking a look at what is happening trend-wise in health care and looking at what could be possible at a new site, Bickel said. Newer facilities have more flex-capabilities in terms of space and staffing, he said.

Also, the age of a facility can affect its energy efficiency, which in turn affects costs to the hospital system.

Bickel said the founders of the hospitals couldn’t have envisioned 100 years ago that the hospital campus would eventually be landlocked. Back then the campus was in the middle of open agricultural land with seemingly endless space.

“I don’t want anyone thinking we are abandoning the 17th Street campus,” he said. “We are not abandoning central Columbus, but we want to be flexible.”

Setting priorities

Doup explained the board has divided strategic-planning projects into short-term, mid-term and long-term projects. An example of a short-term project is the hospital’s plan to expand its medical office space with the recent purchase and soon-to-be renovated Tipton Lakes Health Center at 4001 Goeller Blvd. on Columbus’ west side.

The 20-acre former Clarion location becomes a mid-term project, with the site being cleared and prepared this year as planning continues for what type of hospital facility might locate there. The 800 acres becomes a long-term possibility, with planning to be made for decades into the future.

“CRH has a long tradition of being a good community partner, and this is the next extension of our community partnership,” Bickel said.

How the local health care system invests in the community is important because the health care system wants to make sure the community is the best it can be, he said.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said it’s important and exciting that the hospital system is able to control its own destiny with the purchase of the acreage for long-term possibilities for health care.

“It’s what we want to see when our large institutions look to the future,” he said. “If the hospital would wait and try to find 100 available acres in a location they want sometime in the future, it might be impossible,” he said. “They have the opportunity and can control how that might unfold on this piece of property,” he said. “You have to be nimble and aggressive to seize the opportunity.”

Columbus Regional Health milestones

1915: Bartholomew County bonds for $100,000 to construct a new hospital north of 17th Street and east of Haw Creek in Columbus.

1917: The three-story Bartholomew County Hospital opens with 32 bedsand 25 employees. Its first patients are admitted on Feb. 6.

1930: The Hattie S. Kirkpatrick Memorial Nurses Home, which is housing for nurses, is established on the northwest side of the hospital.

1945: An addition on the south wing is added, increasing hospital capacity to 75 beds.

1949: Bartholomew County Commissioners approve plans for a $780,000 expansion, increasing capacity to 129 beds.

1953: The hospital completes a $1.7 million expansion with additions including two three-story wings; the number of beds is expanded to 142.

1959: The hospital expands to add 39 more beds, remodeling the second floor and emergency areas at a cost of $911,000.

1968: $3.7 million in bonds are issued to build Murphy Pavilion, a five-story in-patient unit of 108 beds in honor of former administrator Olive Murphy, who retired in 1967 as hospital administrator after 28 years of service.

1972: The hospital opens a 10-bed intensive coronary-care unit.

1973: The hospital renovates its children’s ward.

1976-1978: Plans are announced for a $7.2 million expansion adding two floors to the Murphy Pavilion and ambulatory services, including radiology and laboratory.

1979: The hospital partners with LifeLine Helicopter in Indianapolis to provide local service.

1981: Labor and delivery rooms are established on a pilot basis.

1983: Patients are admitted to a new psychiatric ward.

1984: The hospital reclassifies as a regional referral center and a paramedic program begins.

1988: Bartholomew County Hospital and Quinco Consulting Center affiliate to expand and improve mental health services.

1990: Ground is broken on a $40 million expansion and renovation project which includes a cancer treatment center and birthing center.

1991: The hospital adopts a smoke-free policy.

1992-1994: Bartholomew County Hospital changes its name to Columbus Regional Hospital and celebrates completion of a renovation project that added new pavilions, front lobby, gift shop, dining room, physicians office building and renovations and additions to the main patient tower. The Cancer Center opens.

1995: The Breast Health Center opens in the Haw Creek Medical Office Building, and PromptMed Immediate Care Center opens on 25th Street.

1996: Volunteers in Medicine clinic opens offering health care to the uninsured and underinsured in Bartholomew County.

2004: A Picture Archiving and Communications System is implemented and a new linear accelerator begins delivering radiation therapy in cancer treatment. The North Medical Office Building is built. Our Hospice of South Central Indiana opens an inpatient facility on the east end of the main hospital campus.

2008: Plans are announced for a new emergency department and patient tower. A record flood closes the hospital for five months. All employees remained as paid staff during the closure, and the hospital coordinated patient care for residents in the area through surrounding regional health systems.

2011: A flood wall is built around the entire main hospital campus. The health system changes its name to Columbus Regional Health.

2012: Surgical Services begins using the da Vinci Si Robotic Surgical System.

2013: WellConnect opens in downtown Columbus.

2014: Inspire Health Partners is created by a partnership through Columbus Regional Health, Schneck Medical Center and SIHO. Plans for an expanded Cancer Center and new Emergency Department are announced.

2016: The Cancer Center expansion is completed with state-of-the-art radiation equipment and physicians. The new Emergency Department is double the size of the previous facility. Volunteers in Medicine changes its name to VIMCare Clinic and opens in the former hospital emergency department space.

2017: Columbus Regional Health announces its plans to purchase the 20.7-acre former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center to better serve Columbus residents on the city’s growing west side. The hospital pays $4.25 million for the property, with no immediate timeline announced on development of the site.

2018: Columbus Regional Health purchases about 800 acres on Columbus’ southwest side for just over $11 million as a potential site for future expansion of its health care offerings.

— Source: Columbus Regional Health

Columbus Regional Health by the numbers

Columbus Regional Hospital is a community-focused, regional referral health care facility serving a 10-county area, offering specialized care that is more often found in much larger metropolitan areas.

250,000: Number of patients Columbus Regional Health cares for each year.

2,500: Columbus Regional Health employees.

$317 million: Annual operating expenses for the health system.

— Source: Columbus Regional Health

Recent major investments

Columbus Regional Health’s investment in purchasing about 800 acres of land southwest of Columbus for $11 million is among several multi-million-dollar investments the hospital system has made in the past few years. Investments include:

  • In November, Columbus Regional Health Physicians, the hospital system’s network of primary and specialty care physician offices, introduced a new medical record platform powered by Epic. The program houses electronic medical records that can easily coordinate among a patient’s health care providers. This will be followed by converting the entire hospital to the Epic system. Hospital officials estimated the cost of converting the physician offices to Epic at $9 million, and the hospital medical records conversion at $25 million to $26 million.
  • The hospital system has purchased upgraded imaging equipment for Columbus Regional Hospital, including linear accelerators at $2 million a piece and MRIs at $1.5 and $1.8 million.
  • A hybrid operating room which combines a cardiac cath lab and a surgical suite will be an investment of about $3 million, hospital officials said. The hybrid space is an upgrade for patients who may need to have an open heart procedure quickly while in the cath lab. Having this type of operating room available is important in retaining and recruiting physicians who look for this type of offering where they practice.

Source: Columbus Regional Health

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at or (812) 379-5631.