Cooper health to announce a $2 billion expansion of its Camden health-care campus

Cooper University Health Care plans a $2 billion expansion of its Camden campus, adding three clinical buildings and likely intensifying the already stiff competition among hospital systems in South Jersey, the nonprofit is scheduled to announce Monday. The project is expected to take a decade to complete.

Construction of the first building, at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Haddon Avenue and in front of Cooper’s Roberts Pavilion, is scheduled to begin next year. It will be used for clinical care and education, Cooper officials said.

A later stage of the plan will create more than 100 new private rooms. When the project is completed, Cooper will have 745 beds, they said.

Other details, such as the cost of the first building, were not available.

“Not only does this announcement represent the culmination of Cooper’s amazing turnaround since it faced bankruptcy at the turn of the century, but it is also a sign of our commitment to and faith in Camden, its residents, and our shared future,” Cooper chairman George E. Norcross III said in a news release.

If Cooper’s plan comes to fruition, it will build on what Cooper said was $3.5 billion in recent Camden development, spurred in part by controversial state tax incentives.

Cooper has 8,900 employees, including 1,600 nurses and more than 850 physicians, making it the largest private employer in Camden County, the organization said.

Cooper’s huge initiative, in the early stages, illustrates the financial unevenness of today’s health-care landscape, with some health systems struggling to stay open and others expanding rapidly.

In Trenton, St. Francis Medical Center will close if its sale to Capital Health receives state approval. Tower Health closed two hospitals in Chester County, and Crozer Health has cut services at several of its Delaware County hospitals.

Like many health systems that struggle financially, Cooper serves a large number of low-income patients with low-paying Medicaid insurance, but the Camden institution has been able to operate profitably because it also provides advanced cardiology and cancer care, specialties that get better rates from insurers.

Last year, Cooper recorded an operating profit of $159.6 million on $1.8 billion in revenue. At the end of June, Cooper had $858 million in cash, a significant amount relative to its $270 million in long-term debt.

Cooper, which traces its roots to the 1846 founding of the “District Medical Society of the Camden County” by a physician named Richard Cooper and five colleagues, is counting on its cash reserves, grants, and additional debt to pay for the new buildings.

Since rebounding from deep financial trouble in 1999, Cooper’s major moves include the openings of the $220 million Roberts Pavilion in 2008, the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in 2012, and the $100 million MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper in 2013.

Since Cooper opened the cancer center, much has changed in South Jersey health care.

The three-hospital Kennedy Health System became part of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in 2017. One of Kennedy’s hospitals, now Jefferson Cherry Hospital, completed a $250 million project that included a 196-bed patient pavilion with private rooms.

Inspira Health spent $375 million to open the 210-bed Inspira Medical Center in Mullica Hill in 2019, Replacing the nearby Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, which Inspira acquired in 2012.

Also in 2019, Virtua Health acquired Lourdes Health System, expanding what was already South Jersey’s largest health system by revenue to five hospitals. (Cooper had agreed to buy Lourdes, and St. Francis, in 2017, but backed out of the deal.)

In addition, Virtua has an alliance with the University of Pennsylvania Health System for neurosurgery and cancer treatment. The partners are scheduled to open a $35 million proton therapy center by the end of this year. Proton beam therapy is designed to do less collateral damage to the human body because the beam stops when it hits the cancer instead of traveling all the way through the body.