Nearly six babies are born a day at Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital.

“That gives you one small example of the population growth in the area,” says Greg Ossmann, Mercy Health-Fairfield spokesman. “We have the largest birthing center in Butler County. Over 2,100 babies were born there last year and that’s increasing.”

Indeed, the Butler County population has grown by 40,000 in the last 10 years, now at 370,000, with similar growth in neighboring Warren County, which has seen a 34 percent increase in the previous 13 years.

The growth in Greater Cincinnati’s northern counties mirrors growth in health care services during the last decade. It’s not a surprising trend, considering hospitals will follow their patients just as any retail business will follow its customers.

The last five years saw the opening of three major hospitals in the north: UC Health’s West Chester Hospital, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Liberty campus and the Atrium Medical Center that replaced the Middletown Regional Hospital. They join Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital, established 30 years ago; TriHealth’s Bethesda North in Montgomery, which has been around for more than 40 years; and Fort Hamilton Hospital with roots back to 1925.

If competition is good for health care, it should only get better in the North in terms of quality and range of services. As Ossmann says, “All of health care is very competitive. The northern market for Mercy Health is an ultra-competitive market and getting more so every day.”

Beyond Good Growth

When it comes to additional services and facilities, perhaps the biggest news this year is the opening of the groundbreaking Women’s Health Center, part of the UC Health system at West Chester Hospital.

A long time dream of Dr. Lisa Larkin, a specialist in midlife health issues and menopause, the center is not simply an OB-GYN service; it is an integrated approach to women’s health issues, from adolescence to geriatrics. It amounts to one-stop shopping for women, covering areas that include primary care, OB-GYN, psychological services, skin care and reconstructive surgery, and special surgical and comprehensive breast care that includes cancer treatment.

The 26,000-square-foot facility features 47 exam rooms, 20 physician specialists on staff and 30 more who visit the center.

Dr. Larkin sees the center as a resource for women in the area, even if they don’t become regular patients. “I want this to be perceived as a place that women can contact to get good, evidence-based information,” she says. “I have not seen anything close to this in the country with this many services under one roof and where services will be integrated.”

UC Health also plans to add a second patient tower in West Chester that will take two years to complete. The $135 million project will include maternity services that the hospital does not currently offer.

Other hospitals in the area are also adding to their repertoire of services. Cincinnati Children’s Liberty campus increased its infectious disease services this year and is offering outpatient psychology and psychiatry services. Mercy Health-Fairfield opened a new fifth floor patient tower, adding 29 private oncology beds. It became the first in the region to use a groundbreaking new stent, started an aquatic class for breast cancer recovery, and launched a new outpatient wound center that is equipped with special hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Mercy Health-Fairfield has also begun fundraising to add a state-of-the art special care nursery with eight private rooms and a focus on treating babies born with addictions passed on by the mother.

Most of the hospitals in the region now offer robotic surgery procedures in a wide range of areas including prostate focal therapy, arthroscopy and hip replacement, prolapse procedures and heart surgery. While the equipment is obviously expensive, it’s seen as cost-effective for patients in the long run since robotics permit a range of minimally invasive procedures, significantly cutting back on the need for expensive, extended hospital stays.

A Prescription for Fitness

Another trend in the region is integrating exercise with medical needs as more health care providers subscribe to the “exercise is medicine” approach. TriHealth has its Blue Ash fitness center integrated with physicians at Bethesda North for care in such areas as cardiac rehab, diabetes and orthopedic issues. Mercy Health has a similar system with its hospitals and Healthplexes in Fairfield and Anderson.

In fact, the gym is becoming a center for at-risk individuals and patients as much as the traditional workout junkie. “The whole health care system has realized that if people are not physically active, it’s costing them money,” says Deb Riggs, general manger at TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion.

Fitness centers that offer a wealth of workout options and classes, medically integrated with a hospital component and a physicians’ network, are well positioned to meet the new accountable care, wellness trend.

“We have certainly been trending toward that and now it is accelerating. (We’re) trying to keep people well rather than fix them when they are broken,” says Gretchen Aberg, a master personal trainer at Mercy.

A Healthy Tomorrow

Observers expect health care options to increase in the North. Gone are the days when those who wanted sophisticated health care needed to go to “Pill Hill,” the cluster of hospitals in Clifton. The trend is for suburban hospitals to continue to add specialty services and technology, such as robotics and advanced digital imaging, treatment previously only found at one or two central hospitals.

“We have to offer top-notch care for our patients because they now have choices in this region,” Ossmann says. “Other hospitals have opened and expanded in our northern market and that’s because they see it as we see it. It’s where the population is and where it’s growing. So, it becomes more competitive every day.”