Virtua Health can proceed with its plans to build a $1 billion hospital complex in Westampton, Burlington County, as long as it meets 13 conditions, the New Jersey Health Planning Board decided Thursday after reviewing the proposal.
The board voted unanimously to approve the plans but also adopted 12 recommendations made by the staffers of the Health Department who analyzed the proposal. The board then added one additional stipulation – that Virtua obtain approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection prior to construction.
John Anderson, a Westampton resident, attended the hearing in Trenton and expressed concerns that the project could cause potential pollution of water sources, including the groundwater and the Rancocas Creek. In an email to reporters, Anderson said he was also concerned the project could hurt farmers in the area and contaminate drinking water.
Virtua has proposed a nine-story, 670,000-square-foot hospital and various other medical facilities on the 110-acre Hogan Farm, off Route 541 and Woodlane Road, adjacent to the county library. The new hospital, which would have 339 beds and private rooms for all patients, would replace the Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, three miles away.
Construction would begin next year and the hospital would be ready for occupancy by 2022, according to the proposal.
The application next goes to the state health commissioner for approval.
“Virtua is pleased with the favorable recommendations of the New Jersey Department of Health staff and the State Health Planning Board,” Peggy Leone, Virtua spokeswoman, said in an email. “Virtua will work with the residents and surrounding communities to be a good neighbor during the planning for this project and for years to come, just as we did when planning the Virtua Voorhees replacement hospital in Camden County.”
The 399-bed Voorhees hospital, which opened in 2011, also was part of a $1 billion medical complex. A third Virtua hospital is in Marlton.
Westampton Mayor C. Andre Daniels said Thursday that he does not believe the conditions imposed by the Health Planning Board will create enough of an obstacle to block the project.
“I think ultimately everything will be worked out.… While I’m obviously concerned about the Rancocas Creek and preserving it in its most pristine form, you have to counterbalance that with smart growth and smart development,” he said.
After analyzing the project, the Health Department staff agreed with Virtua that the existing 383-bed hospital in Mount Holly, built in 1927, is “essentially obsolete” and cannot be upgraded because it is landlocked and lacks needed infrastructure.
Upon the staff’s recommendation, the Health Planning Board said Virtua must give residents six months notice before closing that hospital and must create a transition plan. Virtua also must formulate a transportation plan for indigent patients and provide transportation for the first five years that the new hospital is in operation. Outreach must be conducted to make sure the medically indigent get the care they need.
Virtua's plan for the Westampton site also includes an ambulatory and surgical center, hospice services, a long-term care and rehabilitation facility, assisted-living accommodations, and medical offices. The rest of the campus would be rolled out over a 20-year period.
Virtua officials said last month that they plan to conduct traffic and environmental studies before launching the project and are still in the early stages.