HealthSouth Corp. announced last week that it intends to begin construction of a long-awaited $18.5-million inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Middletown early next year.
"They are currently working on the site work and then will lay the slab," said Casey Lassiter, the communications manager for the Alabama-based company. "We should begin vertical construction around mid-February."
The company's current construction timetable would put completion of the 48,000-square-foot facility somewhere in November with an opening date possibly as early as Dec. 1, 2014.
HealthSouth has been looking to open a 34-bed rehabilitation hospital off Del. Route 299, near the Route 1 off ramp, since 2011.
Initially, the Delaware Health Resources Board, which is responsible for certifying new health care facilities in the state, rejected the proposal, claiming similar physical rehabilitation services were already available in the area.
Gov. Jack Markell, who supported the project based on its potential economic impact, publicly criticized the board's decision, prompting seven of its 12 members to resign. After new board members were appointed, the reformed body granted conditional approval to the project.
Middletown Town Council followed suit by approving the hospital's construction plans two months later.
But the proposal quickly ground to a halt when Broadmeadow Investment LLC, which operates the Broadmeadow nursing home off of South Broad Street, filed an appeal of the board's decision in Superior Court.
That court initially ruled that Broadmeadow, a potential competitor of the proposed rehab hospital, did not have proper standing to appeal the board's ruling, but that decision was overturned by the Delaware Supreme Court last winter.
A breaking point in the legal battle came in June when Markell signed a bill sponsored by state Rep. Quinn Johnson (D-Middletown) that exempts freestanding rehabilitation hospitals from review by the Delaware Health Resources Board.
That opened the door for HealthSouth and Broadmeadow to reach an out-of-court settlement this fall that cleared the way for the rehabilitation hospital to begin construction this winter.
"Winter definitely poses a problem in Delaware for construction, but according to our design and construction group, we are hoping to stay on schedule as much as possible," Lassiter said.
Once complete, the hospital will employee 80 to 100 full-time medical professionals who will treat patients recovering from strokes, neurological disorders, spinal cord and brain injuries, as well as amputations.
Lassiter said the average patient visit at HealthSouth's 103 inpatient hospitals in 28 states and Puerto Rico is about 14 days.