Within the next three to four years Marana could see a hospital of its own, matching the 239,000 square-foot, $85 million, four-story hospital Northwest Medical Center is building at 1551 E. Tangerine Road in Oro Valley, Jeff Comer, Northwest Medical Center CEO, told the Marana Town Council at a June 29 study session.

Outlining a vision for future health care services in the town, Comer marked "the beginning of talks" for the possible location of a hospital near the Marana Exchange and Interstate 10.

Jami Eggold, hospital spokesperson, later emphasized that Comer's vision as yet isn't even in the planning stages, but was being presented to the Marana Town Council to determine how such a vision might fit in with the community's desires and needs before anything is begun.

"If you're interested, we'd like to share with you our approach in Oro Valley, which would be similar to the approach we are discussing with you tonight," Comer told the council.

The council expressed strong and enthusiastic interest in bringing Comer's vision to fruition.

Northwest Medical Center's expansion initially entailed the opening of an urgent care center at West Ina and North Shannon roads in 1998, followed by the opening in 2000 of a $10 million outpatient services center at 13101 N. Oracle Road in Oro Valley. The initial 39,000 square-foot clinic has since expanded to more than 52,000 square feet.

Less than three years later, in September 2003, Northwest broke ground on its four-story Oro Valley acute care hospital. Construction of the hospital will be completed in November and the facility will begin admitting patients in January, Comer said. The hospital's 300 employees are expected to serve an estimated 100,000 residents who must travel 10 miles or more for health care at the Northwest Medical Center, 6200 N. La Cholla Blvd., which opened its doors in 1983.

Other expansions since then have included a 30-bed Women's Center, Arizona's first free-standing women's healthcare facility, enlargement of an emergency department from 22 to 46 beds and the completion of a $30 million addition.

The Oro Valley hospital's first floor will include an 18-bay emergency department and outpatient services staffing to include imaging and diagnostics, cardiopulmonary testing, an endoscopy lab and surgery. The three upper floors will house inpatient nursing units comprised of 96 beds. The fourth floor is being built as a shell, but if built out to include obstretrics-gynecology or medical surgery units would bring to 120 the total number of beds. There also is room for a four-story wing addition that could bring the total to 200 beds, Comer said.

A separate 80,000 square- foot building adjacent to the hospital will house 40 physicians. By 2010 more than 100 new physicians are expected to be serving the area.

Much the same clinic to hospital approach is being taken by Northwest in Marana.

The company plans to break ground in November on a 35,000 square-foot urgent care center on 3.7 acres of a 10-acre site at the southeast corner of Continental Loop and Silverbell roads. The clinic will include urgent care, diagnostic imaging and laboratory facilities, physical therapy facilities, an office for rotating physicians, six suites for physicians practicing at the clinic, 12 examination rooms, an outpatient clinic and a community classroom.

Eight other buildings surrounding the clinic are being developed by Diamond Ventures for medical and professional offices. Seven of the buildings will be in the 6,000 square-foot range and another in the range of about 9,000 square feet.

Initially, Northwest had planned to locate the Marana clinic at Cortaro and Silverbell roads but when terms of a deal with Arizona Pavilions Development Co. were changed, Northwest pulled out, said Andrew Wills, Northwest director of outpatient services.

All this fits in with Northwest's strategy of shifting health care closer to residents, clustering acute, intensive care services on campus and placing primary care facilities in the communities.

As envisioned by Comer, the projected Marana hospital could be located on 25 acres of a 60-acre site near the Marana Exchange and I-10 and one day be part of an education-medical complex that would include both Pima Community College and the Marana Health Center, of which Northwest Medical has been a "steadfast and constant" supporter.

Comer said Northwest would work with the Marana Health Clinic to become part of that potential complex.

"I think your community, as it grows and develops, is going to expect a first class, state-of-the art health care system," Comer told the council, adding that the way the community is growing it won't be long before that happens.

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