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Health care dominates headlines with federal reforms, medical marijuana controversy

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In the first half of 2013, the health care industry continued to face uncertainty and change brought about by rising costs, an aging population, reimbursement issues and health care reform. But county hospitals continue to expand and renovate, and health care remains a bright spot for the construction industry in San Diego. The medical marijuana battle rages on in the city, and Scripps Health took over the assets of bankrupt San Diego Hospice. Here are some of the top stories in health so far this year.

Scripps Health has two medical projects under construction, with another in the planning stages and a proton therapy center set to open.

The $456 million Prebys Cardiovascular Institute is under way on the campus of Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. Once completed, the facility will have a 383,000-square-foot building with 108 inpatient beds in private rooms, 60 intensive care beds, six operating rooms and as many as six cardiac catheterization labs. The center is expected to open for patients in 2015.

Also under construction is the Phase 2 expansion of Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. This part of the project calls for a two-story, 61,643-square-foot critical care building housing 27 private emergency rooms, 36 acute-care private rooms, six ambulance bays and a helicopter launch pad on the roof. The $94 million project is scheduled to be completed by summer of 2014.

Scripps Health is also planning to begin construction of a six-story, 175,000-square-foot clinic that will house a variety of medical specialty services including cardiology, gastroenterology, pulmonology, neurology, nephrology and endocrinology. Construction on the John R. Anderson V Medical Pavilion at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla is set to start next winter and will be completed in 2016.

With construction completed, Scripps Health plans to open its new Proton Therapy Center near Sorrento Valley this summer. The $220 million project is designed to treat 2,400 cancer patients annually using a highly accurate proton beam therapy. The 102,000-square-foot facility will be the second of its kind west of the Rockies.

Sharp HealthCare has construction under way at East County’s largest hospital. In April, Sharp Grossmont Hospital broke ground on the Heart and Vascular Center on the hospital’s campus. The three-story, 71,000-square-foot facility will enhance the hospital’s ability and capacity to treat acute care patients. More than $60 million to build the Heart and Vascular Center is being paid for by East County taxpayers through Proposition G, a $247 million bond measure.

Kaiser Permanente is planning a new hospital in Kearny Mesa. The main facility will be six to seven stories tall and contain a total of 450 beds. Kaiser has not released details of when construction would start, but the project is expected to be done in two phases, with the first entailing a 560,000-square-foot facility housing 321 hospital beds opening in 2017. The new hospital will be used in addition to, not in place of, Kaiser Permanente’s regional workhorse, the San Diego Medical Center.

Kaiser also opened up the fourth phase of its San Marcos medical office and expects to open its Carmel Valley medical office this summer. A planned expansion of its Oceanside facility is set to break ground this year, as well.

Medical marijuana

In May, the San Diego City Council moved to draft new rules governing medical marijuana. But after four hours of testimony and debate, the council recommended rules that were even more stringent than its last attempt at regulation in 2011.

San Diego has so far been unable to craft a legal framework to govern dispensaries. The city began suing the existing marijuana dispensaries over code violations, while U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy sent letters to their landlords, warning that their property could be seized if their tenants were found guilty of violating federal drug laws.

In the past two years, the number of dispensaries dropped from 250 to just 10, and each of the survivors faces potentially crippling legal challenges.

San Diego Hospice
Scripps Health won the right to acquire San Diego Hospice’s shuttered Hillcrest property for $16.55 million, outbidding Sharp Healthcare. Scripps, which had previously announced its intent to increase hospice care, said it plans to keep the shuttered facility as a hospice with perhaps some improvements. San Diego Hospice filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February and transferred all of its remaining patients, and many of its employees, to Scripps Health and other local hospice operators in the spring.

-Compiled by Jennifer Chung Klam.

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