Aurora Health Care plans significant investments in Walworth County

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Jim Leute
Thursday, February 6, 2014

MILWAUKEE—Aurora Health Care plans to spend tens of millions of dollars in Walworth County in an effort to boost access to health care that's supported by a strong base of physicians.

The Milwaukee-based Aurora is a private, not-for-profit provider serving 31 counties and 90 communities. It operates 15 hospitals, 159 clinics and 69 retail pharmacies and dispensing centers.

Aurora has operated a hospital and several clinics in Walworth County for years but now plans a significant investment that will add an urgent care center in Delavan, upgrades at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn, a new ambulatory surgery center on the county's eastern border and a new clinic in a yet-to-be determined community.

Taken together, the investments will add up to about $100 million, said Lisa Just, Aurora's market president for Burlington and Walworth County.

Of that, Aurora will spend about $70 million on the new surgery center on Spring Valley Road between highways 11 and 36, the new Walworth County clinic, the urgent care center in Delavan and a physician recruitment and retention program that Just said is critical to supporting the new facilities.

In Walworth County, Aurora now operates clinics in East Troy, Delavan, Elkhorn, Lake Geneva and Walworth. It also operates Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn.

Just said Aurora will take six months to plan the new facilities. She said it has not been determined whether the urgent care center in Delavan will be attached to its clinic on Hobbs Road or built as a standalone facility elsewhere.

She said upcoming planning also would determine where in Walworth County the new clinic would be built. Aurora used to operate two clinics in Elkhorn but recently consolidated into a new operation in that city.

Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn and Aurora Memorial Hospital of Burlington—one of the system's older hospitals—will share in about $30 million of upgrades, Just said.

“The changes at Lakeland will be more aesthetic, more patient centered and directed toward the healing environment,” she said. “We've already upgraded the ERs at both hospitals, put in private rooms and done away with the cubicles and curtains.”

Aurora has served the region for nearly two decades, and Just said the new investments will provide easier regional access to the system's programs and services. Aurora's doctors and leaders will help to identify current and future physician needs in the area, she said.

“Working together on this investment in high quality medical expertise will help to build the foundation for tomorrow's care in Racine and Walworth counties,” Aurora said in a news release. “This investment underscores a basic fact: People provide health care, buildings do not.”

Just said health care continues to move in the direction of more outpatient services and fewer inpatient procedures. Ambulatory surgical centers, such as the one planned for eastern Walworth County, are designed for same-day surgery that does not require an overnight stay in a hospital.

Just said Lakeland in Elkhorn will always need inpatient services, but not to the extent it has in the past. More and better outpatient clinics and centers, she said, also will support the system's world-class hospitals, particularly in the Milwaukee metro area.

Aurora and the Janesville-based Mercy Health System dominate the Walworth County healthcare market.

Mercy operates clinics in Delavan, Elkhorn, Whitewater, Lake Geneva and Sharon. It also operates the 15-bed Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center at the intersection of highways 67 and 50. The facility tripled in size about three years ago.

Including the medical center, Mercy's Walworth facility employed 360 people in 2012 and generated net income of $2.3 million on total revenues of nearly $60.8 million, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Aurora Lakeland Medical Center had 515 employees in 2012 and reported net income of $11.3 million on total revenues of $82.5 million, according to the association

In an earlier interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal, Just said Aurora's plans in western Racine County and Walworth County have nothing to do with other providers.

“We really looked at health care in the future and what patients need from us and what physicians need,” she said.

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