A new hospital opens this month in the northwest suburbs and it's the state's first new freestanding hospital in nine years. However, some people question whether the Twin Cities area needed another hospital.
Maple Grove Hospital is surrounded by trees and winding paths. Inside there are tall windows and sweeping staircases. Some rooms have window seats and flat paneled televisions.
The four-story hospital has 90 private patient rooms. It has emergency care and surgery services, a large birthing center, and everything from urology to nephrology.
"They're going to have healing gardens, and some of the room views are really beautiful. And it's just a whole kind of warm feeling in the hospital," said state Rep. Joyce Peppin, who represents the Maple Grove area. "We obviously haven't had a new hospital in a while, and this is one of the nicest in the state."
Peppin said the community needed the Maple Grove Hospital just for the sheer fact that they have a lot of people out here and the distance to the nearest hospital was too far, especially in traffic.
"Myself, when I was pregnant we struggled with where to go to because the closest one was Mercy, and that was about a 25 minute drive," she said.
But Maple Grove Hospital could have a complicated effect on local healthcare, both in terms of availability and cost.
Twin Cities hospitals have had more beds going empty over the past few years. If Maple Grove doesn't have enough patients, its owners -- North Memorial Health Care and Fairview Health Services -- may have to raise prices.
On the other hand, if Maple Grove draws too many patients, other hospitals may take a hit.
The state tried to avoid all this with a moratorium on any new hospitals. However, between 1984 and 2004, the legislature approved nineteen exceptions for new facilities.
"It was entirely up to the Legislature's prerogative," said Mary Krinkie of the Minnesota Hospital Association. "It wasn't terribly, necessarily scientific or what [the criteria was], it was whether an entity could get the votes and pass the legislation."
So in 2004, the legislature added a new process to review exemption requests. The same year, three companies submitted proposals for a hospital in Maple Grove.
Using the review process, the health department determined there were enough people in the area to keep a new hospital full. And then, as before, it was up to the Legislature to grant an exemption to the moratorium.
"In a practical world, if you ask a legislative body, which is not expert on these issues, to make the decision, then the decision is going to get made the way this one got made," said Former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger and a Senior Health Policy Fellow at the University of St. Thomas.
"In a perfect market, doctors would refer their patients to the hospital that best meets the patients' needs. Sometimes that need is proximity to home and family," Durenberger said. "Sometimes that is access to the best quality surgical or diagnostic care in the community. Sometimes it means price or affordability. It can be a variety of factors.
"But if the only factors you use is as population expands the nearest hospital keeps expanding, I think that kind of thinking should've gone out a long time ago."
Durenberger said that kind of thinking got the Maple Grove proposal approved. He argues the hospital still isn't needed, and said the quality of care declines as more hospitals fight for a limited number of professionals.
The Minnesota Hospital Association's Mary Krinkie agrees that the state probably shouldn't approve any more Twin Cities hospitals for a while.
"At this point in time, I don't believe the Twin Cities needs additional hospital beds," Krinkie said. "Based on last year, many of our hospitals reported decreased volumes. Most of the community's needs are being well met with the hospital beds we have in place. That isn't to say that at some point in time additional beds won't need to be added to the system, and there is a process in place for doing that. By and large it is a process that has served Minnesota well."
Nearly one-fifth of the state's 134 hospitals are in the metropolitan area. Since 1991, sixteen hospitals have closed in rural areas, compared to ten closings in urban communities.
There are now seven counties that don't have any hospital at all.