April 20, 2015 7:45 pm •
The new Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista not only wants to be a regional health-care provider for Southeastern Arizona, but it also plans to focus on attracting patients from across the border.
Dr. Dean French, Canyon Vista CEO, explained: “Any hospital that’s trying to be a regional referral center wants to look around and say, ‘What region are we serving?’ You can go up to the third floor of the hospital, look out and you’re staring at Sonora.”
The medical center, which is scheduled to open Thursday, offers 100 beds, Level 3 trauma care, an expanded cardiac cath lab and acute behavioral health services. At 177,000 square feet, it doubles the size of the building it’s replacing.
Although the hospital’s relationship with Mexico is in its early stages, French said marketing to Sonoran patients isn’t just about the bottom line. It also allows the hospital to attract physicians to the area, including specialists.
“If we’re not able to expand our markets, it’s going to be difficult for us to provide the services that the folks in Sierra Vista want us to provide, because they alone don’t necessarily represent a big enough population to bring that service,” he said.
“If Cananea (Sonora) would benefit from a hand surgeon also, that’s a community of 30,000 that is added to our service area.”
Even if focusing on cross-border patients had not been an emphasis for the hospital before, the importance of Mexican visitors to Sierra Vista’s economy is a fact, said Bruce Dockter, chairman of the Canyon Vista Medical Center board.
“We have a Lowe’s and a Walmart and a Home Depot. Those were built specifically with the idea that there would be commercial traffic or shoppers from northern Mexico coming to this area,” he said.
Part of the reason attracting patients from Mexico had not been a priority was the limited capacity of the old hospital, said Jeff Atwood of RegionalCare Hospital Partners, the Tennessee-based company that operates the new hospital.
“The facility itself didn’t lend itself to bring in neighbors from outside the area. Now that we have this facility, let’s look at how to fully utilize it to serve the region, not just the community,” he said.
ADDRESSING A NEED
The Sierra Vista community had been working for 15 years to try to build a new medical center to replace its existing 50-year-old hospital, Dockter said.
“A few years ago, with the cost of capital being what it is, we realized we could never come up with the money ourselves, so we concluded that we had to work out some sort of financial arrangement with another corporation,” he said.
After a partnership with Tucson-based Carondelet Health Network fell through in 2011, the hospital partnered with RegionalCare and was able to break ground on the new facilities in 2013.
While the company would not comment on the cost of the project, RegionalCare holds a 40-year lease that not only allowed for the hospital to be built, but also creates a foundation in Sierra Vista to promote the wellness needs of Cochise County, Dockter said.
The new hospital brings with it the opportunity to address unmet needs in the region.
Along with the expanded cardiac and trauma services, Canyon Vista officials are most proud of being able to provide behavioral health services, which were previously unavailable in Southeastern Arizona.
“It’s not just Cochise County; it’s Santa Cruz, Greenlee, Graham — there’s no acute behavioral health services at all, none,” French said.
“If you’re having any kind of need for hospitalization for a psychiatric issue, you have to sit in an emergency room somewhere until they find a bed for you either in Tucson or Phoenix. That’s a travesty, frankly.”
Canyon Vista offers a 15-bed adult behavioral health unit and a four-bed geriatric unit.
Providing needed services closer to home is not only ideal for the patients but also for their families, Dockter said.
“They’re already in a stressful situation. It keeps them from having to undergo the additional stress of having to drive a long distance or having to find temporary lodging,” he said.
Even if it’s just starting to develop, there is great potential in the relationship between Canyon Vista and health-care providers across the border, said Jorge Ernesto Espejel Montes, Mexican consul in Douglas.
“There is interest in having direct contact with medical services in Mexico, including for binational attention for some patients,” he said. “Perhaps some will continue their treatment on the Arizona side, while some get their medical care in the Mexican side.”
Espejel Montes, who called the new hospital world-class, stressed that while there is top-notch medical care in Mexico, the border allows people who can do so to seek treatment in the United States. It also works the other way around, he said. For example, U.S. citizens who live by Sonoran beaches visit Mexican hospitals.
“The objective of a partnership is that there is coordination with doctors to share information about treatments, patient follow-up on long-term care, and in the future even medical student exchanges,” he said.
The opening of Canyon Vista is also important to the region’s economic growth, said Mignonne Hollis, executive director of the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation.
“Without a healthy health-care environment, it is very hard for economic development to occur,” she said. “We’ve had health care here in Sierra Vista for many years, but this new hospital just adds so much to our future and to the potential of this area.”
Part of that growth is inextricably tied to Mexico and goes beyond simply attracting cross-border patients to the new hospital, Hollis said.
“We are talking health care and we are talking education and true partnerships. What are their needs, what are their expectations, and what are some of our needs and how can we truly help each other?” she said.