A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

St. Elizabeth Healthcare CEO explains opposition of The Christ Hospital’s request for ASC in Fort Mitchell

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The June decision by a Kentucky administrative law judge in favor of The Christ Hospital’s certificate of need (CON) application was a major hurdle in its effort to open an ambulatory surgery center on the former Drawbridge Inn site in Fort Mitchell.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare opposed the CON request and is appealing the decision in Franklin Circuit Court.


St. Elizabeth Healthcare CEO Garren Colvin spoke with the Tribune about why the Northern Kentucky Healthcare provider has taken that position.

“In just about every certificate of need process I have been associated with, whoever doesn’t get the favorable outcome generally appeals that decision to the Franklin Circuit Court,” Colvin said. “It’s normal due process.”

In October, St. Elizabeth also filed in Franklin Circuit Court, contesting the state health plan changes implemented under former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, that provided what Colvin calls a loophole, to be part of the CON approval process.

“It is important to note that 100 percent of the hospitals in the state of Kentucky were opposed to the language that was put in and only one hospital has applied for an ASC using that language,” Colvin said. “By executive order, shortly after taking office, Governor Bevin put the state health plan back to where it was prior to this special legislation being put in.

Colvin admits he was surprised by the decision of the administrative law judge.

“The certificate of need process was developed to prevent oversupply of healthcare services, including ambulatory surgery centers,” Colvin said. “With nine facilities in Northern Kentucky that are less than 50 percent occupied, of which we only operate six, that tells me there is not a need for another ASC.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has chosen not to respond publicly to criticism about its decision to oppose the CON or its strong position in Northern Kentucky.

“St. Elizabeth will always take the high road with regard to how we deal with these issues in public,” Colvin said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for what we believe is right and we absolutely, unequivocally believe we are in the right in this issue, so we are going to fight through the due process that is in front of us.”

There is a perception that competition is always good and in health care. While that may not always be the case, it can be a hard belief to dispel.

“When 70 percent of our customers are fixed payer because it’s either Medicare, Medicaid or self-pay, then that (competition) doesn’t allow us to raise prices in areas that aren’t government payers,” Colvin said. “Someone who is saying competition is good has an easy position to articulate because you already assume that. If I’m trying to convince you that competition is not always good it takes me five minutes and I’m in the weeds on a lot of stuff that the average consumer doesn’t always care about.”

The decision to oppose the CON, Colvin said, is not an effort to discourage all competition from Cincinnati health care providers.  Colvin said, “We have only opposed two of 36 requested CON applications.”

“I would say that we compete with the Cincinnati hospitals each and every day,” Colvin said. “Several of the Cincinnati hospitals have offices located in Northern Kentucky.”

Since Colvin became CEO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare in June, 2015, he has repeatedly stated that improving the health of the Northern Kentucky community is a top priority.

“To do that, you have to make significant investment in areas of the community that really do not produce a profit for the system,” Colvin said. “If our bottom line is challenged because profitable services, and only profitable services, leave our system, then we’ll need to analyze all of our commitments to the community, because they would obviously be rationed as we go forward.”

Colvin emphasized that those decisions would never directly impact the level of care for patients at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

“We are always committed to our mission to take care of everybody who comes through our doors, whether they have the ability to pay or not,” Colvin said. “We‘re true to our vision and we will never stop until Northern Kentucky is one of the healthiest communities in America.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has been front-and-center in finding ways to defeat the heroin and opioid abuse scourge that has plagued the region for several years. Colvin has spoken in favor of a regional needle exchange program and about the dangers of the epidemic to the community-at-large, at city government and fiscal court meetings throughout Northern Kentucky.

“We will not stop fighting the opiate issue and the related Hepatitis C and HIV that comes with it until this community is free from those horrible diseases,” Colvin said. “I think the important part on that front – maybe to the surprise of many – that’s not a service line that brings revenues to our system. In fact it’s a significant cost, so we are at the forefront of that issue not because it’s profitable for our system.”

One of the greatest compliments Colvin has received since taking over as CEO, he says, is that St. Elizabeth has really, truly met its obligation to be a community supporter.

St. Elizabeth recently presented a sizeable gift to Northern Kentucky University for the development of a University of Kentucky regional medical school on its campus.

“That will directly result in 13 degrees at NKU, producing much needed health care professionals for the entire region,” Colvin said. “A second significant gift to Thomas More College which will give a home to their nursing program is graduating several much-needed registered nurses for our community.”

St. Elizabeth also contributed significantly to the recently completed Phase I expansion of the R.C. Durr YMCA in Burlington, which now includes a healthy living center that Colvin said will help make the surrounding community much healthier.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare, however, is a business with a responsibility to its bottom line. If it receives less income from profitable services, there may have to be some tough decisions made with regard to those types of community contributions.

Colvin said it is important to understand that St. Elizabeth has not prevented development of the Drawbridge Inn parcels. St. Elizabeth has not asked for injunctive relief, so it’s up to Christ Hospital to decide if it wants to move forward before the Circuit Court rules.

“We have not stopped any development at Buttermilk Pike,” Colvin said. “The project that is planned for that location could have been developed over the last couple of years without any issue. The only thing that was subject to not moving forward was an ASC and it’s up to them to decide if they want to go forward with that now.”

Colvin believes St. Elizabeth has a great chance for a successful outcome at the appellate level. He said if the decision is not favorable, St. Elizabeth is prepared to continue its mission with Christ Hospital as a competitor at Buttermilk Pike.


“I have faith in our 8,500 associates and I have faith in the 800-plus physicians that refer to this place each and every day,” Colvin said. “Everybody coming through that door is some way shape or form is related or known by somebody on our system in some way. It’s why we do what we do, because we are taking care of our friends, our neighbors and our family.”

*Note: The Tribune also reached out to The Christ Hospital and CEO Mike Keating, who, through a spokesperson, declined a request for an interview.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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  1. Marv Dunn says:

    Why do I think this guy is just blowin’ smoke. St. E’s monopoly in northern KY needs to be tested. I doubt that Christ Hospital would expand here if they didn’t think they could make money.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    “whether they have the ability to pay or not” !
    Really ? If St. E’s has the BIG bucks to give
    to NKU, Thomas More, the YMCA… he doesn’t
    have to worry about Christ. Even if he did cut back NKU will take care of themselves, they
    have in the past. What was St, E’s profit for
    last year? It’s never enough, fighting for more.
    That’s his job but law suits cost big bucks to.

  3. Laurie Peace says:

    We are getting ready to switch our family of 6 to Christ. We are not happy about getting surprise bills from St E for lab fees for tests that were unnecessary, not requested, and unknown at the time sample was taken. Even taking a list of insurance covered tests to the Dr didn’t prevent them from ordering them! We just don’t trust St. E and we are thrilled Christ is expanding their presence in Northern Kentucky!

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