Long night of testimony ends in no official decision on Marshfield Clinic's Minocqua hospital planSubmitted: 04/27/2017

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MINOCQUA - After nearly five hours of testimony at a hearing Thursday night, Marshfield Clinic got neither a thumbs up nor a thumbs down to build a proposed new hospital in Minocqua.

The Oneida County Planning and Development Committee has the power to grant or deny Marshfield Clinic's application for a conditional use permit. Marshfield Clinic wants the permit to build a 12-bed, 72,000 square foot, $30 million hospital in Minocqua.

Anxious medical workers, health care administrators, and the public will need to wait until at least next Wednesday. Committee chair Scott Holewinski decided to hear all input on the proposal Thursday night, but put off a vote until the committee's next meeting on Wednesday in Rhinelander.

Opinion on the new hospital was split at a packed gymnasium in the Minocqua Center--even tangibly. Supporters of Marshfield Clinic sat to one side, while those supporting Ascension and Howard Young Medical Center sat on another.

Howard Young Hospital, which is owned by Ascension Health, sits just a quarter-mile from the proposed Marshfield Clinic hospital. Ascension and Howard Young vigorously oppose the building of the hospital, calling it a duplication of medical services.

"Their proposal will, without a doubt, irrevocably harm the health, safety, and welfare of this region," said Howard Young Medical Center President Sandy Anderson.

Anderson's argument came after a lengthy presentation by Marshfield Clinic. Marshfield Clinic asserts it can offer better care through its integrated system, and asserts medical choices will improve overall healthcare in the Lakeland area.

"Competition is a good thing. It makes us all better," said Dr. William Melms, the Regional Medical Director of Marshfield Clinic. "If somebody favors Howard Young, they should be able to use Howard Young. If somebody favors the Marshfield Clinic, then they should be able to use the Marshfield Clinic and all of the services that we are fully capable of providing."

Melms argued St. Louis-based Ascension may not be as focused on the Lakeland area as Marshfield Clinic is.

"With over $20 billion of annual operating revenue, they are very big and very powerful," he said.

However, Howard Young attorney Tim Feeley implied that Marshfield Clinic may not be trustworthy.

"History shows that some of the statements that we heard, at times, appear to be nothing more than a shell game," Feeley said.

The general public got understandably restless during the meeting. Executives, lawyers, and hired experts from the healthcare companies spoke for three hours to the committee before members heard comments from the public.

Once they got a chance to speak, opinion was split, although many speakers expressed a desire for the two parties to get along better.

Many members of the public discussed the economic viability of having a pair of hospitals located so close together.

"Case law tells us that the fear of economic disadvantage to another hospital is not a permissible consideration," said Dan Kirschnik, the Assistant General Counsel for Marshfield Clinic. "It is unlawful to deny a conditional use permit for the purpose of limiting competition with an existing facility."

Opinion will likely stay split at least until the Planning and Development Committee meets again next Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Oneida County Courthouse in Rhinelander. Holewinski indicated the committee would deliberate and may ask questions to Marshfield Clinic at that time. The committee may vote at that time.

Either party then may appeal the Planning and Development Committee decision to the Oneida County Board of Adjustment.

Story By: Ben Meyer

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